The Eunuch, The Queen, and The Water

September 2, 2012    The Eunuch, The Queen, and The Water      Acts 8:26-40

I’m hoping this is enough of a farming community that it’s not offensive to talk about what happens when bulls reach a certain age, or a certain size.

At least in Sandy’s case, with the help of a trained Veterinarian, they turned her bulls into steers.

And if you’re not sure what that means…then it’s going to be a long morning.

Apparently there are good reasons to have this done.

Bulls get big, heavy, and strong…and turning a bull into a steer makes them a little easier to work with.  It mellows them out a little bit.

When you take away a bull’s ability to produce testosterone, it’s good for the meat, too.
It becomes a little more tender, and it tastes better…at least these are the things I learned last week when we were talking about it here in the office.  (the things you don’t learn in church, right?)

So that’s our lesson in agriculture for the morning.

It might be a little more than we need to know…but education is a powerful thing!

So, a Bull is born a Bull…but this process of castration turns the bull into a Steer.

Now, just to be sure that we’re all on the same page…the same process that turns a bull into a steer, turns a man into a eunuch.

It’s not pleasant to think about, but there’s a lot in the Bible, as in life, that isn’t pleasant.

This is a pretty familiar story.  We know there are three main characters…Philip, the Ethiopian, and the Holy Spirit.

And we’ve probably learned from countless sermons on this passage, that it’s all about conversion and baptism and obedience and a willingness to go where the Spirit leads and do as the Spirit would have you do.

I’ve heard a lot of sermons on this passage…and a lot of them have focused on either the Spirit, or Philip’s willingness to follow the Spirit’s leading.

Not many have really focused on the Eunuch.

Maybe it’s because it’s uncomfortable to hear about a Eunuch…because it just isn’t natural, and chances are we don’t really know any Eunuchs today…so we don’t have a category in our minds to deal with a Eunuch anymore.

This became clear to me when I was reading some commentaries this week.

Some of them deny that he was a “real” eunuch.  They say that maybe he just carried that title…but didn’t have the physical characteristics that would have made him a eunuch.

Others focus so much on the events in the story…like I said, Philip and the Spirit and the baptism…that they don’t even mention the fact that he was a Eunuch, much less that he was serving the Queen of Ethiopia and had control of her treasury.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, I’ve never paid much attention to this Eunuch before.  All I’ve needed to know is that he was rich and powerful, and that he joined the Jesus movement on this desert road out of Jerusalem.

But it turns out there’s a lot more to this story!

According to the Priestly law, Eunuchs would not have been allowed in the Temple.  (Deuteronomy 23:1 tells you why if you’re interested).

Yet, we read he had gone to Jerusalem to worship.

So we know he was at least a seeker.  He was interested in spiritual things; the things of God.

Who isn’t, right?  Even atheists care about God enough to deny claims of faith.

We also know he was educated, since he was reading to himself from the scroll of Isaiah, and we know he was rich because he had his own copy.
This was before the copy machine…even before the mimeograph!

Scrolls were expensive, and they weren’t for individual use.

We know he was in a position of power, because he was in a chariot, and we’re told he was an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians.

And here’s one point where the NRSV is a little more accurate than the NIV.
The NRSV says “The Candace”…not just “Candace”.

OK…so that’s a lot to digest.  We know the Eunuch was something like a seeker, interested in the things of God.  We also know he was wealthy, powerful, and intelligent in the service of “The Candace”, who was queen of Ethiopia.

He must have had a good life, right?

Except for his unfortunate…operation…we might almost envy his position.

But then I started looking into who this queen might have been.

And of course almost everything you find about ancient people can be debated, with some people thinking this and other people thinking that…but probably, this “Candace” wasn’t really a name as much as a title.

Our Bible talks about Ethiopia…but the region they were referring to was probably a little different than the Ethiopia we know today.

The area in question had this system of government where the Queen was called a “Kandake”…or a “Candace”.  Sometimes these Candaces were referred to as “Warrior Queens”.

The women here might like to hear this!

The Candace actually ruled over the king in their system.

They might not have understood it in quite those terms…but the Candace could actually order the king to kill himself, and he was bound to obey her command.

There’s some disagreement among people who have studied this…some think the Candace was the king’s mother, others believe it was his wife…but the belief that kept it all together was that the king was so divine, that the act of ruling was beneath him.

So the day to day activities of ruling the kingdom were passed to his mother or his wife…The Candace.

In this way, the Candaces…the Warrior-Queens…of this area of ancient Ethiopia, they were responsible to rule the kingdom.

Now, it wasn’t uncommon at this time, that when one people conquered another, they might carry off at least a segment of the population, and they might turn the males into Eunuchs.  It was a brutal reminder of who conquered who…who belonged to who.

These Eunuchs might then become slaves or servants, fit to serve in the royal court of their captors.

This is what Isaiah warns Hezekiah about in 2 Kings 20, verse 18…when he says that his sons will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon (2 Kings 20:18).
The only reason I think any of this is important, is that it helps to give me more empathy for this Eunuch than I ever had before.

See, there’s a good chance this guy was a prisoner of war, serving in the royal court against his will.

Sure, he had risen through the ranks, he had gained wealth and power and a certain amount of privilege…but at what cost?

Maybe he had learned to keep his head down, to keep his mouth shut, and just do his job.

Don’t we know that’s how you get promoted when you’re captive to the Warrior-Queen?

Don’t we know that’s how you survive, in service to the Queen of Humiliation?

There’s more to our story than our position and our wealth.

We’re all Eunuchs of a kind.

We’ve all been stripped of something valuable.

We’ve all been marked by shame and humiliation, yet we’re doing the best we can with the lot we’ve been given.

I don’t think it was a coincidence that the Eunuch was reading from Isaiah…reading about being “led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth.”

This is what you do when you’re bullied into submission.

If you want to survive…you keep your head down and your mouth shut.

But it goes on, and becomes even more personal, saying “In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.  Who can speak of his descendants?  For his life was taken from the earth.”

It’s no wonder he asked Philip about this suffering servant that Isaiah was getting at.

He identified with the imagery in ways that most of us…just can’t.

He found himself in the Biblical story.

Scripture becomes immensely powerful when we find ourselves in it, would you agree?

…Hopefully by now you’ve maybe started to at least think about the twelve scriptures that are most important to you, as part of the twelve scriptures project we’re beginning as a church.

I’m betting that the scriptures you choose are going to be scriptures that you’ve found yourself in.  Scriptures that just perfectly capture some aspect of your human experience.

And that’s all good, but what I’m looking forward to most about our engaging the scriptures over the next several weeks…is the process…not the outcome.

Jesus is known in the process…on the road….in the chariot.

Jesus is known in the space between us…in the asking questions one of another, in the sharing of our pain and humiliation and the scars that have made us who we are.

That’s sacred space, and it’s where conversion happens.

I’ll let you in on a secret.

One of the things that made me most nervous when we started pastoring was situations like Luke is describing here in Acts.

Early on in our ministry, I was full of anxiety about this thing called ‘pastoral counseling’.  It was the part of this job that I probably felt least prepared for, and was most nervous about.

I was afraid I might encounter a Eunuch…that is, someone who doesn’t fit in any of the boxes I have…someone who I don’t understand…someone who has been marked by pain and humiliation, someone who would ask questions that I wouldn’t know how to answer.

Have you ever worried about that?

Have you ever been reluctant to ask probing questions because you’re afraid of what the answer might be?  Have you ever felt unprepared to engage someone on their ‘turf’?

If so, you’ve been on the brink of this ‘sacred space’…and hopefully you’ve taken the plunge and entered it at least a couple of times in your life.

That’s where conversion happens.

It’s where our defenses crumble…it’s where our walls have no meaning…and it’s where our lives begin to take a different direction.

I’d like to invite you into that space this morning.

Conversion is more than a moment.  It’s a commitment that takes you from humiliation to freedom and rejoicing.

Life can feel like it’s just one thing after another; that all we’re doing is putting our heads down, keeping our mouths shut, and getting our job done because that’s what our captor desires.

But that’s not the way of Christ.

Whom do you serve?

Where is the road you’re on leading you?

The Eunuch in today’s story went on his way rejoicing, and Philip continued his work.

It’s never too late to change masters.

We all become scarred by life.  We all go through times of humiliation, times of servitude, times where we put our heads down and get the job done.

But the way of Christ is the way of Freedom.  It’s the way of restoration and transformation.

Committing yourself to this way is not a one time thing.

Is there the possibility that you need to re-commit yourself to Christ and his church, to find yourself again in the pages of scripture?

I’m going to speak on behalf of the ministry team this morning…that if you’d like to talk with someone after the service; an elder or a pastor, we’re available to process commitment with you…what it means to be a part of the church, what the way of Christ means, and the questions about faith that all of us live with.

For Christ is known in that sacred space.

Knowing him is a journey, not a destination.

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One Response to The Eunuch, The Queen, and The Water

  1. penngm says:

    I enjoyed reading this. Thank you.

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