A Baptism

The Ethiopian eunuch (St. Irenaeus of Lyons tells us his name is Simeon Bachos) made the 1,000-mile journey from Ethiopia to Jerusalem to worship. Perhaps he undertook the journey because the words of the prophet Isaiah caught his attention:

“Don’t let foreigners who commit themselves to the Lord say,
    ‘The Lord will never let me be part of his people.’
And don’t let the eunuchs say,   ‘I’m a dried-up tree with no children and no future.’

Simeon was castrated, probably as an infant, before he could utter a word. He had grown up serving his queen faithfully.

And now Simeon has been turned away in Jerusalem. Upon arriving, he saw a warning, written in Greek, that said, "No foreigner is to go beyond this barrier of this temple. Whoever is caught doing so will have himself to blame for his death, which will follow."

He has reached his destination and been turned away.

Here is Simeon, returning home not to a family, but to resume his post as treasurer.

Here is Simeon, riding with his caravan, perhaps searching for the passage that prompted him to embark on this journey in the first place. 

Here is Simeon reading aloud from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah.

As Simeon searches, this is what Luke tells us he reads:

“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter. 
    And as a lamb is silent before the shearers,
    he did not open his mouth.
 He was humiliated and received no justice.
    Who can speak of his descendants?

    For his life was taken from the earth.”

Perhaps Simeon reads the description of this mysterious figure and feels as though the prophet Isaiah is sitting next to him in the carriage, describing Simeon himself. 

He was despised and rejected—

    a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.

We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.

    He was despised, and we did not care.

He was pierced.

He was crushed.

Not far from where Simeon is reading, Philip has the same suspicion. It's as though a familiar voice is beckoning him, saying, "Walk beside that carriage."

As he approaches, he hears another voice. This time, it's an unfamiliar voice from nearby, reading what Philip immediately recognizes as the words of the prophet Isaiah. Philip asks, “Do you understand what you are reading?”

Simeon replies, “How can I, unless someone instructs me?” Then he invites Philip to come up into the carriage and sit with him.

As Philip climbs up, Simeon asks him the question that has bothered him for miles: “Tell me, was the prophet talking about himself or someone else?”

"Tell me," he pleads, "who is this person whose voice sounds so familiar, even though the prophet says it has been silenced?"

So beginning with this familiar Scripture, Philip embarks on the long journey toward the Good News about Jesus. As the caravan covers distance, together Philip and Simeon draw nearer to this familiar-sounding voice.

Before long, they arrive at some water, and Simeon says,

"See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?"

Consider the possibility that Simeon asks this question not in a happy-go-lucky, exclamatory tone.

Imagine instead, in the space between the exclamation, "Here is water!" and the question, "What prevents me," Simeon remembers that, as always, there will be a catch. 

What prevents me from being baptized?

Because of my ethnicity, what prevents me? 

Because of my bodily injury, what prevents me?

Because of my appearance, what prevents me?

This conditioned response, which has gathered for years like a wave and crested in Jerusalem, submerges Simeon in doubt. But when Simeon rises to the surface, he hears these familiar words, as if for the first time:

“Don’t let foreigners who commit themselves to the Lord say,
    ‘The Lord will never let me be part of his people.’
And don’t let the eunuchs say,
    ‘I’m a dried-up tree with no children and no future.’
4 For this is what the Lord says:
I will bless those eunuchs
    who keep my Sabbath days holy
and who choose to do what pleases me
    and commit their lives to me.
5 I will give them—within the walls of my house—
    a memorial and a name
    far greater than sons and daughters could give.
For the name I give them is an everlasting one.
    It will never disappear!

6 “I will also bless the foreigners who commit themselves to the Lord,
    who serve him and love his name,
who worship him and do not desecrate the Sabbath day of rest,
    and who hold fast to my covenant.
7 I will bring them to my holy mountain of Jerusalem
    and will fill them with joy in my house of prayer.
I will accept their burnt offerings and sacrifices,   because my Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations.

Posted on June 23, 2016 .