To modern day readers, this encounter with the Eunuch may be one of the wackiest texts we encounter. All the reasons that stick out to us as being weird or miraculous were fairly typical of ministry of the day.
Philip is awoken by an angel and told to hit the road and travel on a specific road from Jerusalem to Gaza. Then the Spirit tells Philip to join the chariot, so Philip runs to catch up to a chariot! Then upon baptism the Spirit whisks Philip away, poof, and the Eunuch goes on rejoicing. In the era that this was written, none of these encounters with angels ro the Holy Spirit would be remarked upon as strange.
The parts that are not as strange to us, are the real miracles of the time:
Philip being converted by his mission experience
A Eunuch who can read ancient Hebrew text and is studying it
A river appears in, what is likely to be, the desert road between two cities. It is unusual for water to be in a place that is not a city, and yet it appears at the exact time that the Eunuch seeks baptism. We do not think hard about water in the desert, but we can be sure the ancient Hebrews and Greeks and Ethiopians did as they traveled.
In modern times, we have learned a lot. We know that those who go on missions go to convert themselves not others, and think hard about the nature of toxic charity and heroism. We think that reading the texts is normal, or should be and encourage as many people as we can to study them. And we absolutely hope that all people are accepted into the faith.
So what we consider miracles were considered normal and vice versa. Except for the fact that the Eunuch is queer individual, and we still aren’t sure what the answer to their question “what should prevent me from being baptized?”
Whether swept up in the suddenness of the moment or not having a good answer, Philip does not answer the question, and that itself becomes the answer.
There is no objection to the baptism, so the moment passes.
The Ethiopian is so excited to be baptized, that Philip cannot in any circumstances say no.
No doubt the flashing neon signs fo the angel and Spirit served to help too. Yes that EXACT chariot, that’s the place we mean. No need to wonder if this is the right person, and the fact that they are reading Ancient Hebrew on a scroll is incredible. Here is this person, probably not even allowed in the temple, who takes their faith seriously enough to journey to Jerusalem and is educated enough to read, and not only to read, but to read a different language then that which is spoken in Ethiopia.
How? Is this Eunuch a descendent of the Hebrews who journeyed and stayed in Egypt? The borders of such countries are unclear, but this individual is clearly a different gender, country and culture than Philip. They even garner such great power as to be the treasurer for the queen. They are riding rich, in a chariot. Did Philip feel overwhelmed by all of these differentials? Did he wonder if he was the right person for the job? Did he rejoice that God gave him such a challenge?
It is important, as anti-trans legislation rips through the US and the UK, as anti-queer policy rips apart the Methodist and Reformed traditions, as the Pope proclaims that gays cannot get married in the Catholic church, it is important to look at this precedent.
“What is to prevent me from becoming baptized”
In John, Jesus says: I am the vine and you are branches, abide in my and I in you, so that we might bear fruit. We are once again, reminded that our fates, our health, our prosperity, our faith is intertwined with one another. We must acknowledge one another, work with one another and grow with one another, so that we might all bear fruit. When we put barriers up, when we say we cannot welcome one another, we die on the vine. This is so very true in churches, where people want only people like them to attend.
This is also true in our economies, where Citi Bank says we have lost $16 Trillion in GDP in the US alone due to our racism https://www.npr.org/sections/live-updates-protests-for-racial-justice/2020/09/23/916022472/cost-of-racism-u-s-economy-lost-16-trillion-because-of-discrimination-bank-says.
Philip knows what it is to be an outcast and is by no means the least of the disciples, no doubt some part of him sympathized with the Eunuch. After all Philip was almost stoned to death. Philip knows what he is doing.
So imagine after this incredible journey, after he is swept back to the disciples, after he has baptized this individual, the story he tells–the precedent he sets, is the a eunuch: A queer gender non conforming individual is part of who should be baptized!
“Go and baptize all people” in Matthew 28:17-20 could be glossed as “I really mean it.”
I am the vine and your are the branches could be glossed as: we are not meant to discriminate
And Psalm 22 definitely emphasizes that God is for all people and that God promises to be for all generations, even those “Dang Kids” future generations who no doubt will do things differently in the future.
Hopefully this passage can inspire us to pursue baptism more inclusively and more joyfully.
And if not, hopefully God sends an angel, the Holy Spirit and a river to help us along the way.