Sometimes when we grow up in church — or have been there for a long time — it can feel like we know nearly every Scripture passage the pastor reads on Sunday morning. But, even if we know the passage, that doesn’t mean we know all the lessons. Which was the lesson I was reminded of (again!) during church a couple of weeks ago.
The main Scripture for the sermon was Acts 8:4-8, Acts 8:25-40, and Acts 21:8. It’s the story of Philip being directed by God to travel south along the road from Jerusalem to Gaza, across the desert. Along the way, he met a eunuch who was reading the scroll of Isaiah as he traveled. Philip felt God nudge him to talk to the eunuch and ask if he understand what he was reading. When the man admitted he didn’t, Philip joined him in the chariot and explained the Gospel of Jesus to him. The eunuch believed what Philip said, and Philip baptized him.
I’ve always looked at this as a story about following God’s nudges when we feel them, about not being afraid to talk to others about God, or about not being embarrassed to ask questions about God-things. I still think those take-aways apply, but the pastor added some details to the story that I’d either never heard or had never thought hard enough to figure out.
Detail 1: The eunuch said he had been to Jerusalem to worship. The Jewish people traveled to Jerusalem to worship all the time — but the eunuch wasn’t Jewish. He was Ethiopian, and a high-ranking one at that — a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. If he had gone to Jerusalem to worship, how had he learned the faith? How long had he followed the faith? And, wow, what a long way to travel — from Ethiopia to Jerusalem — to worship! That’s dedication!
Detail 2: The traveler was a eunuch, and Scripture expressly forbid eunuchs from worshiping at the temple. If you need verification of this, check out Deuteronomy 3:21 — it makes it quite clear! So where did the eunuch go to worship? Just outside the temple courtyard? And if he wasn’t allowed to enter the temple area to worship, could he still give some type of offering? Or did his contributions have to be actions rather than monetary? I have no idea. Might just have to research that ….
Detail 3: The eunuch was reading the words of the prophet Isaiah. That meant he had a scroll of the teachings, which was a rare thing for someone to have — and very expensive! How did he come to have such a precious thing? Was it his, or the queen’s, or someone else’s? An interesting question I won’t ever know the answer to.
Hearing these extra details brought the story to light for me in a new way, even though I’ve heard it since childhood. It also made me start thinking about how I look at things in my own life. Nothing is ever what it seems on the surface. How many times am I guilty of surface interactions or reactions without looking to the underlying layers, those extra details that support the situation? More than I’d like to admit, I’m sure!
What can I do about it? Work to be more empathetic and open toward others. Ask for clarifications before I jump to conclusions. Remind myself that there’s always more than meets the eye, as the old saying goes. And that sometimes those extra details aren’t any of my business, but acknowledging there are things I don’t know can help me handle things better.
Will I be successful? Not always, but hopefully more often than I have been lately. Baby steps every day. That’s what it’s all about.
Your turn: What’s a familiar Bible story you’ve learned something new about lately? Or, how do you keep a mindset that’s open to seeing all the layers of a situation? Come share with us!