Philip and the vine and love. Philip interests me because he is so bold in this story in Acts. Philip is like that even when he first meets Jesus. He heads off to tell Andrew about Jesus and Andrew brings his brother, Simon. Philip brings Nathanael to Jesus. And he figures in other stories where he and Andrew seem to act as gatekeepers to keep the mobs away from Jesus--or to let them see Jesus. He declares that Jesus is the one they have been looking for: the true vine, the true love of God. Philip is insightful and willing to drop everything to follow Jesus and also bring others to him.
So, the story of the Ethiopian eunuch and Philip’s eager willingness to follow the voice of God is no surprise. One suspects that Philip converses with angels frequently. It seems to be no particular surprise--Philip rises up and goes where he is told to go with no idea why. No GPS location, just hit the road--a specific road. Philip seems to brim with confidence in the direction from the angel with no need to have further knowledge about the reason.
So, we have this eunuch. He has several counts against him. He is a foreigner, he is an altered male, and most likely he is not a Jew. As a eunuch he would not be allowed on the temple premises yet he had gone to Jerusalem to worship and had apparently purchased a copy of Isaiah’s writings. This person was not binary, the Jews would have considered him an abomination. He has stopped in his chariot to read this new book and he couldn’t make head nor tails of it. Philip sees the eunuch who would have been immediately recognized as a person of wealth and privilege. Perhaps he thought to walk on the other side of the road and pass him but the Holy Spirit said, “Go over to the chariot and join it.” Philip RAN up to the chariot--this could be a dangerous move. And, he hears the eunuch reading aloud the prophet Isaiah. They have a conversation about understanding what is read and Philip tells the eunuch about Jesus. Just like he told Andrew and Nathanael years before--this guy Jesus is the vine, this guy Jesus has been sent by the loving God.
Philip got right up into this foreigner’s chariot because this eunuch wanted to know about God and Philip knew about God because he knew Jesus.
As they traveled along the road, they came to water and the eunuch asked to be baptized: is there any reason not to? And, Philip baptized him.
Philip didn’t suggest he study for 2 years and then wait for Easter, he didn’t tell him that because he fell outside the gender norms he couldn’t be loved by God, he didn’t tell him that Ethiopians or black people couldn’t follow Jesus, and he didn’t tell him that his wealth was a barrier or his social status back home. Philip baptized him.
And, I am encouraged by this early, early story of the Christian church. This movement to follow Christ was not set in a binary world there was no Greek or Jew, literally no male or female, slave or free, nor poor or rich; there were just people who wanted to love God and know about how much God loved them. Any and all of them could be part of this Christian community--no one was excluded.
Then the magic happens, Philip baptizes the eunuch and is immediately whisked away by the Spirit of God. Philip continued his evangelizing in the spot where he lands and the eunuch goes on his way rejoicing. The story was remarkable enough without the “Beam me up, Scotty,” but, okay. If an angel can speak to Philip and tell him to go somewhere, if Philip can immediately comply and encounter someone who was ready to hear about Jesus; then why not be whisked away by the spirit, why not?
This true vine didn’t just sprout up and have all these branches, many were grafted into place, like this eunuch, like you and me. We can come to Christ with our imperfections and become part of his ministry--we, too, can bear fruit like Philip and who knows? Maybe this eunuch was the beginning of the church in Ethiopia. Maybe he was very fruitful in his ministry, too.