Baptizing Eunuchs and Blowing Open the Door

Baptizing Eunuchs and Blowing Open the Door April 30, 2024

“Baptizing Eunuchs and Blowing Open the Door”

The mention of Ethiopia always stirs my imagination. Perhaps a Sunday school teacher had a thing for Ethiopia and went on and on about it in my youth. Maybe it was my mama insisting I eat all my food, because as she would say, “There are children starving in Ethiopia that would gladly eat all that good food.” Then, there’s this OT text: “Zerah the Ethiopian came out against them with an army of a million men and three hundred chariots and came as far as Mareshah.”

Then the Lord said, “Just as my servant Isaiah has walked naked and barefoot for three years as a sign and a portent against Egypt and Ethiopia.” (Is. 20:3). An army of a million men, a naked prophet as a sign against Ethiopia, a eunuch from Ethiopia. This seems on the edge of a violent, X-rated movie. Violence and sex – the two main ingredients in American entertainment.

Did you hear about evangelicals having a conference to build “stronger men” and the event started with a sword-swallowing pole dancer with no shirt?

A word about eunuchs

The law made clear that eunuchs were outsiders to God’s grace. Deut. 23:1ff reads, “No one whose testicles are crushed or whose penis is cut off shall be admitted to the assembly of the Lord.” Leviticus 21:16 – 21 reads, “No one of your offspring throughout their generations who has a blemish may approach to offer the food of his God …. no one who has crushed testicles.” I understand that no one shows up for church thinking this would be a good Sunday to talk about Ethiopians and eunuchs, but there’s a lot going on between the lines that ask for our attention.

The Ethiopian eunuch admits a lack of understanding

The Ethiopian eunuch does a most un-American thing – he admits that he doesn’t understand what he is reading. American Christianity has a reductive tendency, a kind of “Weight Watchers” approach to Scripture. There’s an entire tribe of Bible-crushing reductionists among us. Damage has been done to the gospel with the words “simple” and “easy”. We have been telling people that Christianity is easy for so many decades that folks are now convinced that all they have to do is believe.

Ethiopian eunuch as professor

Phillip asks: “Do you understand what you are reading?” The eunuch responds: How can I unless someone guides me?” This conversation justifies the development of highly skilled guides.

Preachers can be ineffective interpreters of Scripture. While the Bible is neither an impossible book nor an impenetrable book, it does not give its treasures to just any old hack who claims to be a preacher. Hard work, discernment, prayer, the Holy Spirit, a community of faith, questions, and openness are all required for the work of reading and most often, an interpreter skilled in the understanding of the Bible needs to be present.

Can you believe it? Phillip baptized the Ethiopian eunuch.

Photo by Abel Alemseged

Philip, having baptized the Ethiopian eunuch, changed everything, but it has taken the church centuries to grasp. Here is one of those seminal moments when the barn door has been left open, and nobody knows it yet.

Baptism kicks the door wide open. Holiness is now reconfigured as the power to reach out to the strangers, the different ones, the outsiders. Sometimes I think we haven’t paid enough attention to what happens when we baptize someone. From the outset, the nature of the church is to be welcoming. They become part of the family of God.

Baptism opens the door for “here comes everyone.” All the restrictions are dropped before they can even start. Women ordained. Gays ordained. Aliens welcomed. LGBTQ included. Diversity, inclusion, openness, and commensality.

Jesus slowly, step by step, person by person, prepared his followers for the kingdom. Unclean lepers welcomed. Zealots included in the inner circle. Samaritans. Prostitutes. Foreigners. Immigrants. Women.

How has it come to pass so many Christians have attempted to make the Christian experience of ministry a male fraternity? Why are Christians restrictive when Jesus is open? I am reminded of my Louisiana hometown Baptist church. We were a missionary culture. We sent missionaries to Africa. Then one Sunday, some of the missionary converts from Africa visited our church. The deacons wouldn’t let them in the front door of the church because they were Black. How long will we resist the open will of God?

Jesus has been teaching us all along, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane” (Acts 10:15). Luke tells us these words were repeated three times. Repetition indicates teaching material. The lessons have to be repeated. And so we repeat again: All are welcome. Hospitality is extended. There are no outsiders, no categories of “unclean.”

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