Monday, January 31, 2011

More Thoughts on Luke's Account of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch

Here is something I was thinking about the other day. It was in regards to Luke's account of the Ethiopian eunuch.

First, I am more and more fascinated that Luke, a physician, is the one who wrote about Philip's encounter with this sexually other person. Could it be that in his years of practice, he had faced the difficult task of helping parents make sense of a child born with ambiguous genitalia? Where there cultural, religious and social complexities that he understood with a more enlightened frame of reference? Who knows, but something to think about.

Then there is the issue of how it was that this person's 'abnormal' sexuality was known in the first place. We don't know how Luke found that out. We can surmise that Philip must have shared this incredible event with others, including Luke. So then, we need to ask, how did Philip find out that this person was a eunuch? It is not as if this person went around with a sign across his forehead that said 'eunuch.' How then did this somewhat, if not very private detail become known? Could it be that this person's dress was more 'flamboyant' or feminine than what would have been expected for a man to be wearing? Again, we don't know. Another possibility is that there was nothing strikingly different in appearance, except for perhaps something as subtle as the lack of facial hair, or feminine gestures, or a gender neutral voice pitch.

A more realistic explanation might have to do with the question this person asked after Philip helped him understand the passage in Isaiah he was struggling with and became a believer in Jesus as a result. He wanted to know if there was anything preventing him from being baptized. It is not out of the realm of possibility that the eunuch, who happened to be the Treasurer for the Queen of Ethiopia and a devout Jew and had travelled all the way from his country to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover, would say something like, "I am a devout Jewish proselyte, yet because I am a eunuch, I have been considered ceremonially unclean and have not been able to participate fully in my religion and have been relegated to the side lines all my life. Will it be the same with the church? Will I be marginalized, or will I be treated as an equal?" Philip did not hesitate to baptize him. PLUS - the fact that the Holy Spirit made sure that the 'eunuch' detail even became part of the story is a huge deal, especially if this event took place during the formative first days and weeks of the church. It is a message of inclusion, where sexuality and gender identity have no bearing.

To me, as I discussed in another post (Part 2), this harkens back to Jesus' bizarre interjection of eunuchs into the discussion about marriage and divorce. I believe more than ever that the lesson Jesus was teaching His disciples had everything to do with how God desires that when we enter into a loving and intimate relationship/union, that it is to be valued and not dispensed with frivolously and casually for selfish reasons. Then he introduces the eunuch in to the discussion. Interesting... because it had nothing to do with the first part of the discussion, when he quotes from the O.T. about "for that reason God created them male and female."

As I've pointed out in (Post-Part 1) what is interesting here is what Jesus doesn't say and that is as important as to what he does say about eunuchs. First, he does not say anything that would disqualify a eunuch from entering into a a union with another person. But wait, what gender should that other person be? It obviously did not matter to Jesus, Otherwise he would have said something about it.

Additionally, we know that biologically speaking, there is a range of possible 'anomalies' so, for example, one could be more male than female, or more female than male, or right in the middle with a 50/50 split. Again, Jesus didn't draw any lines of distinction and he placed no conditions on what would then constitute an acceptable union. And finally, He did not condemn the eunuchs, nor did he say they would go to hell. Now, if Jesus' lesson had to do with the inherent beauty and value of two people making a life-long commitment to each other and he did not get bogged down with the person's sexuality, then why the hell do we?