Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch

Reading is here.

During the Easter season we have readings from the Book of Acts. It is like one big adventure story. Fantastic escapes, growing churches, near drownings. This week is the story of Philip who has been successfully growing a church even though Paul is breathing down everyone's necks with threats of murder and imprisonment. But in this part of Acts, God has a different plan for Philip. Go to the wilderness road and find a man returning from Jerusalem who is trying to figure out the faith in the face of rejection by the religious leaders of his tradition. Next minute Philip is transported to the road to Gaza where he finds a powerful court official of Ethiopia who is reading Isaiah as he travels along in the chariot. Most likely accompanied by a large entourage to make him comfortable and protect him from bandits. Since he reads out loud (as all people did in those days) Philip can hear what he is studying. Though a powerful man in his own culture he does not stand on ceremony when this strange traveler shows up and says "may I help." The tradition says his name is Simeon Bachos. 

I have been looking at different artistic interpretations of the story of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch and wondering in good Godly Play fashion about what people hear and see in this story:


This one interests me because of the intimacy between Philip and Simeon. I know sometimes when discussing matters of deep spirituality - the conversation can evoke a closeness that one rarely encounters in most daily encounters. Their heads are so close that one is reminded of a newly married couple. The others in the painting are engrossed in their own tasks while the two share matters of the heart. (Icon mural in a monastery in Kosovo)


This modern icon is painted in the style of a traditional Coptic icon. I like that it tells the whole story from the Temple to the Baptism. I notice that Philip is walking on the water and wonder what that means. Since the Ethiopian Eunuch is an important saint in the church in Africa - this shows that powerfully to me. The hand of God with the 2 fingered blessing - shows that Christ is present and active in the story.


This is a close up from a modern icon by Ann Chapin. The rest of the scene is a wilderness of mountains and also has the hand of God coming from the sky above. To me this shows the rich garments of the Eunuch's station in life and Philip humbly offering his service. The Eunuch does not act out of power though he probably gets his earthly needs met easily with the snap of fingers. He is willing to stop an listen to this stranger. His poverty of knowledge overcomes whatever status might get in the way.


This is probably my favorite -- the driver is encouraging the horse to run along, Simeon the Eunuch is reading closely (with typical Coptic umbrella held over the scriptures), Philip is running to catch up - trying to fulfill his assignment from God. It is from an illustrated Book of Acts. This speaks to me of how often I think I have heard God say - go tell someone what you know. When really I should be listening and trying to catch up to where they are. The gaps of culture and language mean there will be a lot I don't know. And I will need the other's help to even share what we have together.

All of these ask the question - how to tell the Good News so that it is heard. The painting show me the relationships of class, culture, language, and all manner of difference. But never the less the call from God is to be faithful, whether in the big city or the wilderness road. One never knows where a time of revealing will occur - it may be me that needs the Good News from the other.

Thanks to all the participants in the EfM groups I co-mentor. Lots of great discussion in our Theological Reflection.

2 comments:

JCF said...

Comparing 1st and 3rd icon: the first shows the Eunuch as (essentially) a woman. That may be more realistic (depending on WHEN he was made a eunuch) than the bearded older man in the 3rd!

Ann said...

Thanks JCF for picking up on that. I saw a sermon when I was googling for images - by a transgender preacher using this icon