Telling the Story

The angel of the Lord spoke to Philip,
“Get up and head south on the road
that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza, the desert route.”
So he got up and set out.
Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch,
a court official of the Candace,
that is, the queen of the Ethiopians,
in charge of her entire treasury,
who had come to Jerusalem to worship, and was returning home.
Seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah.
The Spirit said to Philip,
“Go and join up with that chariot.”
Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and said,
“Do you understand what you are reading?”
He replied,
“How can I, unless someone instructs me?”
So he invited Philip to get in and sit with him.
This was the Scripture passage he was reading:

Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
and as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who will tell of his posterity?
For his life is taken from the earth.

Then the eunuch said to Philip in reply,
“I beg you, about whom is the prophet saying this?
About himself, or about someone else?”
Then Philip opened his mouth and, beginning with this Scripture passage,
he proclaimed Jesus to him.
As they traveled along the road
they came to some water,
and the eunuch said, “Look, there is water.
What is to prevent my being baptized?”
Then he ordered the chariot to stop,
and Philip and the eunuch both went down into the water,
and he baptized him.
When they came out of the water,
the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away,
and the eunuch saw him no more,
but continued on his way rejoicing.
Philip came to Azotus, and went about proclaiming the good news
to all the towns until he reached Caesarea.
(Acts 8:26-40)

Scripture Study

8:27 a eunuch: An emasculated court official, here specified as the treasurer of the Ethiopian kingdom in Africa. Candace: Either the name or the title of the queen mother and royal matriarch of Ethiopia. Jerusalem to worship: Judaism drew admirers from many places and nationalities in the ancient world. The eunuch falls into this category, but because of his physical condition he could not be circumcised, enter the Temple, or unite himself fully with the community of the Old Covenant. ● Although castration was an impediment to fellowship and membership in Israel (Deut 23:1), Isaiah envisioned a lifting of this restriction in the messianic age (Is 56:3–5). The dawning of this new age in Christ convinces Philip there is no longer anything to “prevent” the eunuch’s Baptism into the covenant family of God (8:36–38).

8:30 heard him: Reading aloud was customary in antiquity.

8:32–33 The eunuch is puzzled by the prophecy of Is 53:7–8 and the person to whom it refers (8:34). ● The passage comes from the song of the “Suffering Servant” in Is 52:13–53:12, which describes the rejection, humiliation, and murder of the Messiah by his own generation. In the midst of this tragedy, the Servant pours out his life willingly in sacrifice for human sin. Philip interprets the poem christologically, i.e., as a preview of the suffering and sacrifice of Christ (CCC 601).

8:39 caught up Philip: Sudden relocations by the Spirit were also experienced by the prophet Elijah (1 Kings 18:12; 2 Kings 2:16). went on his way: According to the report of Irenaeus (a.d. 180), the eunuch returned home to become the first Christian to evangelize Ethiopia.

8:40 Azotus: Another name for the Philistine city of Ashdod, 20 miles north of Gaza. Nearly 55 miles up the coast from Azotus is Caesarea, the Roman capital of Judea, where Philip presumably stayed for several years (21:8).

Scripture Reflection

The baptism of the Ethiopian official marks an important step in the spread of Christianity. St Luke’s account underlines the importance of Sacred Scripture, and its correct interpretation, in the work of evangelization. This episode encapsulates the various stages in apostolate: Christ’s disciple is moved by the Spirit and readily obeys his instruction; he bases his preaching on Sacred Scripture—as Jesus did in the case of the disciples of Emmaus. Scared Scripture is the living Word of God and a treasure too often tucked away on a rarely visited shelf.

May the virtues of faith, hope, and love go with you today – DV.