“Hey man, can I get a cigarette?” a drunk man sitting against the side of a building on the outskirts of downtown Jackson asked me.
“Sorry man. I don’t have any of those to give,” I replied. “But I can pray for you if you want. I’m a pastor.”
“A pastor? I’m so messed up man. I’m drunk and messed up. I’ve been through so much stuff. Can you help me?”
“Maybe,” I answered. “What have you been through?”
While our conversation didn’t get very far in light of the man’s intoxication, it was a moment where I tried to practice putting on the eyes of Jesus. To many, this would have been a drunkard headed nowhere who should maybe be reported to the police. But Jesus is someone who enters people’s messes and loves them just as much on their worst day as their best. I could see how deep his shame went as he told me that God was upset with him, but I reminded him of grace and God’s desire for him to return home when he stumbled. Whether he’ll remember that moment or not, I’ll never know. But for me, it was a prime example of how God meets us in the midst of our mess, breaks through the social constructs that we design for ourselves, and loves us right where we’re at.
The Ethiopian eunuch might have been the last person that Philip would have expected both an angel and the Holy Spirit to send him to, but that’s exactly what happened. There’s so much ambiguity in this eunuch. As an Ethiopian, was he also Jewish, a convert to Judaism, or an outsider? Regardless of the answer, as a eunuch he would have been a bit of a religious outcast as the Jewish faith had laws that would have put restrictions on him. And as a eunuch, was his body or sexuality effected? If he was castrated before before puberty, he may have scientifically lacked some male characteristics and carried some feminine characteristics. Regardless of the answer, society would have automatically put him into their various boxes of sexuality and gender. And the ambiguity goes on. As a eunuch working for a queen, he was likely rich; and as a traveling eunuch he likely carried a fair amount of authority and power in his household—but at the same time he may have still been a slave in that household. Regardless of the case, his condition would have kept him marginalized.
And yet despite all of these ambiguities and sociological boundaries, the Holy Spirit intentionally sent Philip straight to this eunuch. Philip found him reading the prophet Isaiah, explained how Jesus fit the prophecy he was reading, and then baptized him. This early story in Acts will go on to set the tone of the rest of the book, as the Holy Spirit goes on to send the church past their sociological boundaries and into the ambiguity of all people.
*This devotional was created out of the themes of Acts 8:26-40 found in today’s reading at CommonPrayer.net. For more thoughts on the Ethiopian Eunuch, see Sean D. Burke’s book, Queering the Ethiopian Eunuch.