Perhaps it’s because I preached this passage last Sunday. Perhaps it’s because I’ve had a hip replacement, cataract surgery, heart catherization (with a stent)—and no telling what other parts I may need to have replaced. Perhaps it’s because I feel myself slowing down, stiffening up, bothered by aches and pains I never used to have. Whatever the reason, the story of the Ethiopian eunuch has been much on my mind.
You know the story. A eunuch (quite likely a misplaced Jew), a trusted member of the Ethiopian queen’s court, is traveling the road from Jerusalem to Gaza, reading the Hebrew Scriptures. Philip has been directed to that road by the Spirit for the express purpose of intersecting with—and interacting with—the eunuch. After being invited into the chariot, Philip explains the gospel to the eunuch, who becomes excited.
“Look! Here’s water!” the eunuch cries. “What prevents me from being baptized?”
This seemingly innocent question is actually a loaded one. The eunuch has been to the temple in Jerusalem on a pilgrimage, presumably to worship there and reconnect with his Jewish heritage. What he most likely found was a stone wall, erected by Torah law, which declared that no castrated male could be part of the congregation of the Lord. As sincere as would have been his desire, we can be sure he would not have passed the Pharisees’ “wholeness” test.
Philip assures him that if he believes the gospel he can be made whole in God’s sight. No wonder, when the Spirit removed Philip from that place, the eunuch “went on his way rejoicing!” What he had not found in Jerusalem, what he could not understand from his reading of Isaiah, he discovered in the story of Jesus Christ. There was nothing in his physical condition that prevented him from becoming a follower of Jesus.
Moses had a speech impediment. Rahab was a prostitute. Isaiah was a man of unclean lips. Jeremiah considered himself too young for God’s service. Zacchaeus was short and a Roman collaborator. Paul had an unspecified “thorn in the flesh.” All of these people had something that prevented them from being whole—perfect—in body or spirit. Yet God was able to reach out and use them. It wasn’t their imperfections—their disabilities—that concerned God. God was interested in what they could offer, not what prevented them.
Fanny Crosby was blind, yet she wrote beautiful, meaningful hymns—many of which we still sing today. John Milton, Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frederick Handel were also blind, yet God used them to create major works in literature and music—works that enrich the human spirit, and that demonstrate the working of God’s Holy Spirit.
What prevents us from being whole? Is it our physical condition? Our lack of an education? Is it shyness, or the perceived lack of the ability to speak well, or the belief that we couldn’t possibly be used by God? Whatever our disability, our shortcoming, our imperfection, it doesn’t matter to God. God is an expert in taking less-than-perfect people and using them, often in ways they—and others—thought impossible.
Hear the story of the Ethiopian eunuch afresh. Feel with him the estrangement from his religious heritage, the incompleteness that cuts him off from the God he so much wants to relate to and serve. Hear Philip’s words, telling of God’s grace and mercy, of God’s ability to make even the most imperfect person whole again. See through his eyes possibility of baptism and feel what he must have felt as he emerged from the water—a new creation.
Hear him say, “I’m whole in God’s sight! I’m complete! I have been accepted into God’s kingdom!” And accept the wholeness God offers you.