Philip, Deacon and Evangelist
Philip was just a bit fey that day — following a whim, blown by an angel. He could have been murdered or worse, out there all by himself on the lonely wilderness road.
Instead he met a most strange and mind-boggling entourage traveling in a carriage. Perhaps there was an umbrella to keep the principal occupant from the sun. Maybe a few servants waved fans made of palm fronds. The esteemed one might have been dressed in flowing robes of luscious color, might have been adorned with gold jewelry of flawless perfection, might have worn just a touch of exotic scent, might have spoken in a rich soprano. All the carriage’s occupants would have had skin the color of figs.
Philip was a Jew. The eunuch in the carriage was to him, despite his finery, someone not whole, grossly deformed, distastefully unclean. But that particular day, nudged by his fey angel, Philip came up alongside the carriage, heard the Ethiopian speaking Hebrew, and asked him, perhaps a bit incredulously, if he understood what he was reading.
The Ethiopian could have become offended. A bearded, less-than-tidy Jew was trotting along beside his carriage, sandals flapping, and had dared to eavesdrop on what he was doing. But he had just come from a very heartbreaking time in Jerusalem. He had come all the way from Ethiopia to hear the scholars teach the Hebrew scripture. But no one would speak to him. He was ritually unclean, doubly, maybe triply so. And the most essential element of his state was that he had been castrated. You just can’t do much about that. “How can I? No one will teach me!” he exclaimed.
So Philip hopped up into the carriage. When he hopped down again it was to perform a baptism. Ethiopian and Philip together invoked the profound symbolism of cleansing and being born of water and spirit, of death and resurrection. A powerful fresh understanding of who and whose each of them were was born.
Where will your road lead you today, I wonder? And who do you suppose you’ll encounter on it? Wherever you go and whatever you do, may the God of eunuchs and fey Jews bless your journey.
Laurie Gudim is a religious iconographer and liturgical artist, a writer and lay preacher living in Fort Collins, CO. She will soon manage a website for the Diocese of Colorado highlighting congregations’ creative ministries.