Today’s Scripture Reading (December 12, 2017): Acts 8
Franchises can be a hard way to make a living, especially if you are a creative individual. Franchises tend to want to steal away that creativity. Everything has to be done in a precise manner. The dream of the franchise is to make every one of its locations the same. Visiting a McDonalds in Miami, Florida, or Toronto, Ontario, Canada, or in London, England, according to franchise logic, should be as close to the same experience as possible. There should be no differences in the menu; the décor should be highly similar if not identical, all so that the franchise can deliver the expected experience to the customer who walks in the door. Yes, in a global franchise there are local differences, but if at all possible, these are to be minimized, no matter the cost.
Essentially the Christian church, at this point in time, was an unofficial franchise of Judaism. It was unofficial because the Jews did not give its approval to the Christians to exist, and yet it was a franchise because it was understood that to be a Christian, one had to first become a Jew. This is the reason why the act of circumcision became such an essential issue in the early church. Circumcision, for a male, was part of the “cost of entry” into the Jewish faith. So as long as Christianity remained a franchise of Judaism, circumcision, and adherence to the food laws and the purity laws of the Jews was part of what it meant to be a Christian. All of this would change with the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15), but as Philip meets with the Ethiopian eunuch, all of these expectations were still in effect.
So, as the eunuch stops by some water and asks Philip “What can stand in the way of me being baptized?” the answer is simple, at least for a Jewish franchise. It is found in Deuteronomy – “No one who has been emasculated by crushing or cutting may enter the assembly of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 23:1). The fact that the Ethiopian Eunuch was a eunuch was enough to disqualify the official from identifying with the Judaism – and by extension, the Christian Church. Baptism was forbidden by the Mosaic Law.
Of course, Philip didn’t see it that way. The Christian Church was so much more than just a Jewish franchise. There was a radical hospitality evident within the fledgling church, and the early Christians appeared hesitant to keep anyone out, which apparently included eunuchs. It is this hospitality that should be an essential part of who we continue to be, especially as we draw nearer to Christmas. I am reminded of something that Rachel Held Evans wrote.
"Don't tell anyone, but sometimes I wonder if the best thing that could happen to this country is for Christ to be taken out of Christmas--for advent to be made distinct from all the consumerism of the holidays and for the name of Christ to be invoked in the context of shocking of forgiveness, radical hospitality, and logic-defying love. The Incarnation survived the Roman Empire, not because it was common but because it was strange, not because it was forced on people but because it captivated people" (Rachel Held Evans).
Evans describes who it is that we are supposed to be – a community that is evidenced by shocking forgiveness, radical hospitality, and logic-defying love. It was these three things that Philip gave to the Ethiopian eunuch. It should still be what anyone receives when they come into contact with the Christian Church, our essential nature summed up in forgiveness, hospitality, and love.
Tomorrow’s Scripture Reading: Acts 9