Monday, March 14, 2011

A Relection On the Story in Acts on the Ethiopian Eunuch

The Ethiopian Eunuch

God's Special Invitation to all those who are Sexually Different to be Unconditional Members of God's Community under the New Covenant

There is one passage in Scripture that prophetically indicates that the Spirit of God is poured out in a special way on all those gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered who are sincerely seeking to live their lives according to the teachings of Christ. This is the account of the baptism of the Ethiopian Eunuch in the Acts of the Apostles (8:26-39).

The Lucan author's purpose in Acts is to depict the work of the Holy Spirit in the formation of the first Christian community, and how that community differered from its predecessor, the Jewish community. He stresses that people who were considered outcasts by Israel for various reasons were to be included in the new community. One of these groups, symbolized by the Eunuch, are those who for sexual reasons were excluded from the Old Testament community. "A man whose testicles have been crushed or whose adult male member has been cut off must not be admitted to the assembly of Yahwey" (Deut. 23:2).

This prohibition had its origin in the Jewish belief that God made a procreative covenant with his choosen people Isreal, "Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and conquer it.(Gen I:28)" Because of that covenant every Jewish male was under a sacred obligation to bear as many children as possible, since among those children would be the Messiah, the savior of the human race. Any Jewish male who refused to procreate for physical, psychological or spiritual reasons could potentially be denying the human race its savior.

However, in Isaiah (56:3-8), there is an explicit prophesy that, with the coming of the Messiah and the establishment of a new covenant between humans and God, eunuchs, who were formerly excluded from the community of God, will be given a special place in the Lord's house and an immortal name.

No foreigner adhering to Yahwey should say,
"Yahwey will utterly exclude me from his people"
No eunuch should say,"Look I am a dried tree."
For Yahwey says this:
"To the eunuch who observes my Sabbaths, and chooses to do my good pleasure and cling to my covenant, I shall give them in my house and within my walls a monument and a name that is better than sons and daughters; I shall give them an everlasting name that will never be effaced."


These I shall lead to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar, for my house will be called a house of prayer for all people.
Lord Yahwey who gathers the exiles of Isreal declares:
There are others I shall gather besides those already gathered.

Under the symbol of "eunuch" this prophesy includes the homosexual because the word "eunuch" in the new testament is used not only in the literal sense, to mean those who have beeen physically castrated, but also in a symbolic sense, for all those who for any reason do not marry and bear children.

For example, in Matthew (19:120), Jesus, discussing marriage and divorce, says to the apostles "There are eunuchs born so from their mother's womb; there are eunuchs made so by human agency and there are eunuchs who have made themselves so for the sake of the kingdom of Heaven."
The first category, those born as eunuchs, is the closest description we have in the bible of what we understand today as a person with a homosexual orientation. It should come as no surprise, then, that one of the first groups of outcasts of Isreal that the Holy Spirit includes within the new covenant community is symbolized by the Ethiopian Eunuch. Note that it is the Holy Spirit who takes the initiative by leading Philip to encounter the Ethiopian eunuch, who is the treasurer of Candice, the Queen of Ethiopia. The Eunuch, as was his practice, had made a pilgrimage to the temple of Jerusalem, and spent his time there in prayer to Yahwey. He is painfully aware that he is excluded from Yahwey's people.
As he waas riding home in his chariot along the road to Jericho, he was reading Isaiah:
The Spirit said to Philip, "Go up and join that charior." When Philip ran up, he heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, "Do you understand what you are reading?" He replied, "How could I, unless I have someone to guide me?" So he urged Philip to get in and sit by his side. Now the passage he was reading was this: Like a lamb led to the slaughterhouse, like a sheep dumb in front of its shearers, he never opens his mouth. In his humiliation fair judgment was denied him. Who will ever talk about his descendents since his life on earth was cut short.

The eunuch addressed Philip and said, "Tell me is the prophet referring to himself or someone else?" Starting, therefore, with this text of scruipture Philip proceeded to explain the good news of Jesus to him.
Further along the road they came to some water and the eunuch said,"Look there is some water here, is there anything to prevent my being baptized?" He ordered the chariot to stop, then Philip and the eunuch both went down into the water and he baptized him. But after they had come up out of the water again Philip was taken away by the Spirit of the Lord, and the eunuch never saw him again but went on his way rejoicing (Acts 8:28-39).

The eunuch rides on into history "full of joy". I like to think of this eunuch as the first baptized gay christian. It should be obvious that we are dealing here not just with the story of an individual. The symbolism of the passage is quite obvious. The Holy Spirit takes the initiative in leading the new Christian community to include among its members those who were excluded for sexual reasons from the old testament community. Now that the Messiah has come there no longer is a need for every member to procreate in the hope of fathering the Messiah.

Paul speaks of the Holy Spirit breaking down all the divisions that separate the human family one from another. In this passage we see the Holy Spirit prophetically takes the initiative to break down the division between gay and straight. We have the good fortune to live in an age where this prophesy is being fulfililed by the gay liberation movement which is a continuation of the initiative of the Holy Spirit. We can accept the eunuch of the court of the queen of Ethiopia as our first gay Christian brother in Christ and the apostle Philip as our special patron. The judgment of the Spirit of God him/herself stands for all time: There is no reason why those who are sexually different cannot be received as fully qualified members into the Christian community!

No comments:

Post a Comment