Reading from the Commemoration of James Theodore Holly (alt. date)
Sometimes we all need a little help. I’ve had times in my life where I’ve felt like I was banging my head against a wall trying to figure out something, being too stubborn to ask for help with what I thought I should be able to figure out on my own but couldn’t. In the end, it took someone else who could not just solve the problem but tell me how and why that solution worked.
The Ethiopian eunuch needed some of that help. As the overseer of the treasury of the queen of Ethiopia, he was undoubtedly an educated man and evidently multilingual in both speech and text. He was puzzled by the passage in the book of Isaiah (53:7-8) and, as is often the case, someone came along to shed light on the problem. Philip, a deacon and evangelist, followed instructions from an angel and the Spirit to go south along a certain road and there he heard the Ethiopian reading. When asked about his understanding, the Ethiopian admitted he needed help so Philip joined him in the chariot and began to explain the prophecy as it applied to Jesus. As a result, the eunuch asked for and received baptism from Philip before Philip was whisked off and the Ethiopian resumed his journey home.
We, like the eunuch, can read scripture and not always understand what it means. We can have our own ideas or understandings we gained listening to sermons and Bible studies. Sometimes we read or hear something that challenges the way we understand a particular passage and it can confuse us. There are times we reject the challenge out of hand, but sometimes it makes us dig deeper and in new directions, showing us a new way of seeing that we hadn’t considered before. The eunuch was open to receive what Philip showed him and it changed his way of thinking and understanding.
It isn’t always necessary to accept a new way of thinking or new interpretation, but I think it is important to give it fair consideration. Should we reject it simply because it’s not the way we’ve always heard it or believed it? Is it out of the question because we’ve never heard or done it that way before? Is it a message that takes us forward or backward? Does it build the kingdom of God or tear it down? Who is our teacher and to whom should we listen?
Everyone needs help at some point in time. In a time and culture where individualism is stressed and everyone is supposed to be self-sufficient, able to solve their own problems without outside assistance. Of course, it isn’t that way at all, but we try to maintain the façade because that is what is expected of us. Sometimes it takes a healthy dose of humility to ask for help when we need it, and humility is a rather unpopular virtue in this day and age. When we do bring ourselves to ask for help or guidance, we run the risk of rejection which is something none of us ever really wants. On the other hand, though, we may open the door to a new understanding or new skill, and we have given someone the opportunity to be the teacher, to share their own wisdom and show us a different way of solving a problem we couldn’t solve on our own.
When we ask God for help in understanding, sometimes we find someone has been placed in our path who will give us just what it was that we need. For the eunuch, it was Philip. For us, it could be a priest or pastor, a co-worker, a good friend, a family member or a total stranger. The thing is, as we journey along our everyday lives, we may encounter a Philip who will give us an answer to a question that perhaps we didn’t know we had.
Today I need to be open to the Philips I meet, people who may in some way make me see and understand things differently than before. I may not ask for or even know I need that answer, but it will be there if I am paying attention.
By Museum Rotterdam (photograph) (Museum Rotterdam) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons