Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, "Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza." (This is a desert road.) So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. Then the Spirit said to Philip, "Go over to this chariot and join it." So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, "Do you understand what you are reading?" He replied, "How can I, unless someone guides me?" And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him.
Now the scripture that he was reading was this: "Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth."
The eunuch asked Philip, "About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?" Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, "Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?" He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.
O peoples, bless our God,
let the voice of his praise resound,
of the God who gave life to our souls
and kept our feet from stumbling. (R./)
Come and hear, all who fear God.
I will tell what he did for my soul.
To him I cried aloud,
with high praise ready on my tongue. (R./)
Blessed be God
who did not reject my prayer
nor withhold his love from me. (R./)
Jesus said to his disciples, "No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, 'And they shall all be taught by God.' Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh."
God was already drawing the Ethiopian eunuch towards the faith, before ever he met with Philip on the road from Jerusalem to Gaza. This wealthy Ethiopian civil servant was a God-fearing gentile who worshiped Yawheh, and followed whatever Torah rules he could, in his actual situation. The Spirit was attracting this man to a deeper understanding of life, through reading the prophet Isaiah’s Songs of the Suffering Servant. When the cheerful deacon Philip chose to travel the same road as the Ethiopian, divine providence was clearly at work. The foreigner was grappling with the Scriptures, but unable to understand their mysterious message.
Listening to this man reading aloud from Isaiah, Philip asked him “Do you understand what you are reading?” and the pilgrim replied politely, “How can I unless someone explains it to me?” When he heard how the words of the Suffering Servant pointed to Jesus’ death on the cross, the Ethiopian found faith in Jesus and asked to be baptized. Notice the steps of his conversion, not really a move from sin to grace, but taking an opportunity offered by grace, and wanting its full impact in his life.
Like the Ethiopian officer we are called to be “God-fearers” who draw near to God and seek to know what life expects of us. Like this pilgrim, we should join in worship, as he did in the temple in Jerusalem. And on his way back home, he was still hoping for God to enlighten him. After his leap of understanding, he was baptised and was saved in Christ.
The helpful, hospitable church represented by Philip is the ideal urged on us by Pope Francis — who wants to see the joy of the Gospel shine on the lives of all who welcome it. We too can help spread the good news, like the Ethiopian who went home to bring the faith to his own country.
In the church we receive not only sacramental presence of Jesus but also the guidance and example we need to keep our faith strong. Remember his words: “I am the living bread come down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread that shall live forever.”