4 May 2020

Thank you to Br. Richard Green for sharing this reflection with us. Brother Richard is a Carmelite friar, currently living in the CISA community, in Rome

A few days ago, we heard a reading about one of the lesser-known apostles, telling the story about Philip baptising an Ethiopian official by the side of the road (Acts 8:26-40). The Ethiopian had been to Jerusalem on pilgrimage, to worship, and was travelling back to his home:

"Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and he was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah.  Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go over to this chariot and join it.’  So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’  He replied, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’ And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. " (Acts 8:27-31)

This makes more sense if we remember that he must have been reading out loud, so the Philip could overhear him, and know that he was reading Isaiah. Back then, nearly everybody read out loud. Even 350 years later, St Augustine--who read and wrote a lot--was astonished the first time he met St Ambrose, who was able to read silently. 

The Ethiopian invites Philip in, and asks Philip to explain what that passage from Isaiah means. Even though he can read it, to understand it properly he needs to know something else: he needs to be told about the life of Jesus. Once he has been told this, it all becomes clear, and the Ethiopian acts decisively. He doesn't just ask to be baptised, but to be baptised immediately, in the nearest piece of water. 

This passage reminds me of the more famous one of the disciples on their way to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). Here the disciples meet Jesus along the way, without knowing it, and he talks to them about the Old Testament, and they come to see that Jesus' life and death and resurrection were the fulfilment of all the promises within it. They must have known the Bible well themselves: none of the passages Jesus explained would have been new to them. It was the new viewpoint offered by knowing Jesus that made the difference, and allowed them to understand in a new way. 



Thank you to Brother Richard Green, O.Carm