PASSION TO PENTECOST
We are now in the post Good Friday and Easter days and anticipating the (celebration of) Pentecost. The Pentecost and the Persecution scattered the Jewish believers beyond the confines of Jerusalem. Some of them like Philip came to Samaria to proclaim the Gospel (Acts 8:5). The Samaritans are baptised, and began receiving the Holy Spirit (8:8, 17). It was at this juncture, before the full-fledged inclusion of the Gentiles in Acts 10, the Spirit prompts Philip to pursue an Ethiopian Eunuch, who was returning from the Jerusalem Temple in his chariot on the desert way to Gaza. This story is a point from where the proclamation of the Gospel is universally extended from the Jews to the Gentiles. The story links the Passion to the Pentecost (Acts 2) and the Conversion of the Gentiles (11:21). After reaching up to the chariot, Philip asks the Eunuch that million-dollar question 'Do you understand what you are reading?' (8:30).
In response, this foreigner Eunuch invites Philip to sit next to him in the chariot and requests him to explain Isaiah 53:7-8, the passage he was reading. Philip, then, opens his mouth 'and beginning from this Scripture' proclaims him Jesus (v. 35). We can conjecture here that beginning from Isaiah 53, Philip went on explaining the Scripture until they came to 56:1-8 where we see that the membership into the Lord's community is extended to the Eunuchs and Foreigners: 'these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful [rejoice] in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar' (4-7). It is on the basis of this passage that Philip would have explained to him how this good news becomes a reality to the foreigners and eunuchs in and through Jesus (cf. Mk. 11:17). Having received the Good News, the Eunuch decides to be baptised, and proceed, 'rejoicing' (Acts 8:39). This story provides three hermeneutical challenges in our proclamation of the Gospel: Do people understand what we proclaim?; Is our proclamation text-based?; Does it yield result of transformation and rejoicing in our hearers?
'Do you understand?' provides us with the goal for all of our hermeneutical exercises: to create understanding and faith among the receptors of the Good News. The Eunuch, having received 'the Good News about Jesus' (8:35), asked Philip to baptise him: 'Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptised?' (36). This understanding will be hard to create without attempting hard to explain the Good News in its total scriptural context.
Philip's reading gives us the correct methodological priority in our hermeneutical exercises: text-context. Philip proceeds with contextual reading 'beginning from this Scripture.' We can surmise that not only did Philip proceed to 56:1-8 and pondered there, but also went on till 60:1-3, which sets the overall goal for Jesus' ministry to the poor and marginalised 'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour' (Lk. 4:18-19). In our interpretation, we need to read the passage bearing the Good News in the light of the whole Scripture: Old and New Testaments and their socio-religious and historical contexts. We do need to bear in mind also the context of our receptors. The passages Isaiah 53:7-8 and especially 56:4-5 suited the Eunuch's own context and condition.
The story indicates that the presentation of the Good News and its reception in faith changes or transforms the situation of the Receptor. After hearing the Good News about Jesus and baptising in His name, the Eunuch proceeded on his way 'rejoicing'. It is the Passion of Jesus, which has made that rejoicing a reality. The link between Isaiah 53 pointing to the Passion of Jesus and 56 bringing the Good News to the eunuchs, enabling them to rejoice before God is vital and supports our point. Before the passion the barrier sent many a eunuchs and foreigners back with unfulfilled question, whether their offerings were accepted and without having access to the inner presence of God. After the passion, Jesus brought the very presence of God in the hearts of people through the Holy Spirit. Though this is not indicated, I believe that at that point of baptism, the Eunuchs also received the Holy Spirit, suggesting that he has become the equal member in God's community. This is the real reason for his 'rejoicing'. He was also rejoicing because now he could take the Good News to his own people. I am sure it was the Eunuch who proclaimed the liberating Gospel to Ethiopia.
In these post-passion days and when we are anticipating the celebration of Pentecost, let us rejoice in God's provision of Good News to the Poor, Marginalised, Disabled and Oppressed. Let us do it, like Philip and the Eunuch, by proclaiming the Good News about Jesus to the weary and needy.