Maggie Niles,
Grace Church, Honesdale

Then the angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Start out and go south to the road that leads down
from Jerusalem to Gaza,” (This is the desert road). So he set out and was on his way when he
caught sight of an Ethiopian. This man was a eunuch, a high official of the Kandake, or Queen,
of Ethiopia, in charge of all her treasure. He had been to Jerusalem on a pilgrimage and was
now on his way home, sitting in his carriage and reading aloud the prophet Isaiah. The Spirit
said to Philip, ’Go and join the carriage.’ When Philip ran up he heard him reading the prophet
Isaiah and said, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ He said, ‘How can I understand
unless someone will give me the clue?’ So he asked Philip to get in and sit beside him.

Acts 8:26-40

After a discussion of the confusing passage in Isaiah (53:7-8) Philip tells the eunuch (who loved Judaism enough to go on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, after all) the Good News of Jesus. The eunuch apparently listened thoughtfully because he responds, “Look….here is water: What is there to prevent my being baptized?” They stopped the carriage and went to the water, where Philip baptized him.( Water in the desert just happened to be right there?) Although Philip vanished immediately (“the Spirit snatched Philip away”) the eunuch “happily” went on his way home.

What good luck that the assigned reading for this, my first day ever of blog writing, is the story of not one but two pilgrimages! Here are two people on a pilgrimage at the same time, and they meet each other not by plan but by serendipity, or not by human plan anyway. The happy outcome of this meeting is the conversion of a gentile, part of an important new direction for Jesus’ followers.

For a few years my husband and I organized international golf trips, usually ship-based. Although we had everything organized before we pulled up the anchor –cabin assignments, tee times, meal times, and sightseeing opportunities–it was always the unexpected experiences which became the most memorable for our guests. As I fussed over complaints and mistakes my husband had to wisely (and often) remind me that every traveler was responsible for his or her own good time. The pleasure each got was not my responsibility but their own. The folks who enjoyed themselves the most were the ones with the most open and flexible attitude.

So I am particularly impressed with this eunuch who was on his way back to Africa after a respite in Jerusalem where he must have loved being part of the Jewish structure even if he was a gentile and thus an outsider and an observer at best. And now, his whole self being open to spiritual information and experience, he is able to hear what Philip is offering…to see beyond the careful parsing of a tough scriptural passage to the possibility of a new life, to be included as a full member of a faith group. Imagine his joy! I bet he really did go home “happily”!

For your walks and mine this summer, short or long, at home or away from home, I hope we can be similarly surprised by the Spirit.



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