How can I understand unless someone explains it to me? Philip told him the Good News about Jesus. Acts 8: 31 & 35We do not know a lot about Philip. What we do know is that he was one of seven Church Leaders appointed to sort things out, following a quarrel among the members of the church about the management of certain funds and other practical matters, so that the Apostles could concentrate on their ministry of prayer and preaching, unhindered by such trivial distractions. Philip was also a preaching evangelist, sent to head a mission to the Samaritan people. A bold undertaking, for Jew and Samaritan had not got on with one another for a thousand years – the hostility intense and bitter. And tradition has it that Philip was the first to lead a black African to faith in Jesus. That is what the opening verse of this reflection is all about.
Even less is known about the Ethiopian who heard the good news about Jesus from Philip. We are led to believe that he was most probably black but a eunuch, and that he held high office, none other than Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Court of Candace, Queen of Ethiopia. Candace was not her real name, but a title given to all the Queens of Ethiopia. When the two characters in our story met, the Chancellor had just been to Jerusalem to worship God. So, he was religious, either a Jew or a devout man fed up with the multiplicity of gods on offer, looking to Judaism for something better. When Philip meets him on the road out of Jerusalem he was riding in his carriage, reading and struggling with the text of Hebrew Scripture. Philip, man of the hour for this wandering pilgrim in search of true faith by asking the pertinent questions, longing and hoping for answers that made sense.
And Philip knew what to do and what to say – with great effect. Philip, grasping his chance, told him the good news about Jesus as they travelled the road together, unlikely to be looking at the scenery through which they journeyed. The Word of the Lord was by far more important and urgent. Whereas most of the commentaries consulted translate that Philip, “preached to him the good news”, I prefer the alternative, “told him the good news.” No chance of the award ‘PhD’ for that little morsel of biblical criticism! It is simply that as I endeavour to imagine the scene, “told” the good news somehow fits better, speaks more eloquently. What matter, the great thing in this story is that Philip knew what to say and what to do and a new convert was baptized and went on his way rejoicing. A conversion to Christian faith, always an occasion of great joy but it is just the beginning!