The Fifth Sunday of Easter - Reflection

‘[Jesus said] 'I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.’’ John 10:16

Brothers and sisters, as we continue our celebration of Easter the Church has us cast our minds onto the Acts of the Apostles. The Acts are the second half of Luke’s great work about Jesus. Beginning with everything Jesus did up to and including His death, resurrection, and ascension in his first book, the Gospel of Luke. And now in his second book - the Acts of the Apostles - Luke records what Jesus continued to do though His Spirit working in the Church. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who has come to His tired and battered flock, the people of Israel, and though they killed Him Jesus used His death to forgive them, heal them, and prepare them for what would happen next. And what is to happen next is so amazing that even Jesus’ disciples - even Peter himself the chief apostle - can’t quite believe it. Jesus’ death and resurrection are such Good News that Jesus doesn’t want the disciples to keep it to themselves, Jesus doesn’t just want them to tell it to their fellow Jews, no Jesus wants them to go out into the world and tell everyone. Jesus makes that point very clearly when He said in our Gospel reading: ‘I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice’. Not as a replacement for His Jewish people - no that would never do - but as a coming together to make one people, one Church. And so, Luke’s second book - the Acts of the Apostles - is the true story of how Jesus sends His Church out and - guided by the Spirit - takes the Good News to the whole world. Look at the first verse of our reading from Acts 8:26: ‘Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Get up and go towards the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’(This is a wilderness road.) So he got up and went’. The Church is on the move. It is not shut up in Jerusalem! No the Church is going out there, out to the world, and bringing with it the Good News of Jesus.

Now at first glance the one Jesus is sending Philip to in our reading is a strange choice for Luke to record. You see Luke is primarily concerned with the poorest. Read Luke’s Gospel and you will see that he records Jesus’ encounters with the poorest and most politically marginalised people of Jesus’ day. But the one that Jesus sends Philip too is not materially poor at all; in fact quite the opposite! The man is not politically poor either. No, this man is a Chancellor of the Exchequer. This black Ethiopian is extremely rich and powerful. So why does Luke, the Gospel writer who is so interested in material and political poverty focus on him? Well because the man is in so many ways spiritually poor. This man - for all his wealth and power - is an outsider when it comes to People of God because he is not Jewish. There are so are many connection points between this man and many in the Western world. Despite our relative wealth and power so many people in the West are spiritually lost. Spiritually starving for God. Consequently, there are many who are looking for answers. The Ethiopian Eunuch stands for so many relatively rich and relatively powerful people who are spiritually searching. Now, look at v29: ‘Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go over to this chariot and join it.’’ This rich and powerful man has bought himself the Scriptures but canNOT fully understand what he has in front of him. For the Scriptures - then as now - are not magical simply imparting knowledge. And so Jesus sends the Church - Jesus sends Philip - to explain the Scriptures to this searcher. Picking up from the second half of v30: ‘[Philip] asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ [The Eunuch] replied, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’ And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him’.  It seems he doesn’t need the Church in the form of Philip to tell him much about Jesus before he realises that Jesus is the One who satisfies. Now listen to his reaction, v36:

‘As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, ‘Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptised?’ He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptised him’.

The man encounters Jesus in the Scriptures - with the help of Jesus’ body the church - and then he jumps at the chance to join God’s people. When the Spirit of God, and the People of God, and the Word of God are brought together the gates of hell will not prevail against them. The Good Shepherd reaches out though His body, the Church, and brings in one at a time the sheep who are without a shepherd.

What can we learn from this passage this morning? Well let’s see the critical importance of reaching out to those around us who don’t know Jesus and helping them to discover Him and come to know Him. For just as the Eunuch would have been lost without Philip, so people out there could remain lost without the Church being active in offering both loving words and loving actions. You don’t need to know all the answers, just being willing to chat to someone about Jesus and share what you do know about Him can have a huge impact. Let me read to you the words of St Teresa of Avila, on the importance of the Church, of you and me, living out our faith and taking Jesus to our starving world:

“Christ has no body on earth now but yours. No hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which Christ's compassion must look out on the world. Yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands through which He blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are His body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”

Body of Christ, People of God, let us heed the words of our Good Shepherd and take the Good News to the world. Amen. (from Fr. Mike).