Biblical Words 
The risen Lord, who gave himself in love, enables
peoples and persons to be God’s love for each other.
. Acts 8:26-40
The reading from the Acts of the Apostles describes
the encounter of Philip the
Evangelist with the Ethiopian
This man is described as the Minister of Finance to
the Queen of the Ethiopians (verse 27).
A word about
Eunuchs were male slaves who had been neutered as children, so that,
being free of sexual drives, they could be trusted to oversee and manage the
Women’s Quarters of great palaces, where all the royal wives and consorts lived
along with their children. (Sexually
capable males were, of course, forbidden on pain of death from such quarters.) These eunuchs were the educators and
companions of young princes – and advisors to their mothers. When the royal princes came to power they
might retain their eunuch companions as advisors and even appointees to
positions of power. Over time, eunuchs
often became important political figures in the kingdoms of
the ancient near east. Thus, our eunuch
in Acts 8 has become the highest ranking financial officer under the Queen of the
great Ethiopian kingdom.
The Ethiopian eunuch has been to
We know he was reading Isaiah, the passage we call
chapter 53 (Acts
For thus says the Lord:
But as he reads chapter 53 (the Suffering Servant), the eunuch is puzzled,
and that provides an entrée, guided by the Spirit, for Philip the Evangelist to
explain the gospel to him (verses 30-35).
Starting with the prophecy of the Suffering Servant, Philip explains who
Jesus was and the saving effect of his death and resurrection. Having heard the gospel, the Ethiopian is
baptized as soon as they come to some water.
Baptizing the Ethiopian extends the
inclusiveness of the gospel of Jesus: a
prominent member of a distant people, who cannot be a Judean, becomes a
baptized believer in the good news about Jesus.
We hear again the thanksgiving and celebrative part
of this great passion psalm. It was this
part of the psalm that revealed so forcefully to early believers the
big-picture consequences of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
In the context of this Sunday’s readings, the
emphasis is certainly on the acknowledgement of God’s rule by the families of the
All the ends of the earth shall remember
This acknowledgement by the nations is because of
God’s deliverance of this speaker from death.
This deliverance is a cause of joy to many: to peoples far and wide,
mighty and poor, Israelites and non-Israelites, including the living, dead, and
yet unborn, all of whom are mentioned in verses 23-31.
Guided by what they saw as direct references to
Jesus’ crucifixion (22:1 and 18), early believers found in this psalm a warrant
to expect that the nations would in time recognize and confess Jesus as
Lord. The book of Acts looks toward the
fulfillment of that expectation on a large-scale.
. John 4:7-21
The Epistle reading continues in First John, where
we are offered a mini essay on the love of God, agape.
It may be helpful to think of this essay as based on
Jesus’ statement of the Great Commandment and its corollary, to love the one God
wholly and solely and the neighbor as oneself (Mark 12:28-34).
The First John passage, however, includes one
additional ingredient: God takes
the initiative. God starts the process of love that moves
through the Son to all those in whom the Son abides.
The bigger picture assumed by the discussion is
that, apart from the coming of the Son, people are not able to love God – or
other people. Through the coming of the
Son, the first part of the Great Commandment becomes possible of
fulfillment: “God abides in those who
confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. So we have known and believe the love that
God has for us” (verses 15-16).
Knowing and believing that God loves us makes
possible the carrying out of the corollary of the Great Commandment – for us to
love (ourselves and) each other.
“We love because he first loved us” (verse 19).
Those loved by God may stand with boldness at the
time of the last judgment – they may stand without fear of condemnation. And fear is the opposite of love. The message of God’s forgiveness, accepted as
certain (on faith!), frees people to love each other.
And whether we love our brothers and sisters is the ultimate test of whether the love of God has
truly come to abide in us: “Those who say,
‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do
not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they
have not seen” (verse 20).
In a very ironic sense, seeing is believing. Loving the imperfect brother or sister one
sees from day to day is evidence that we believe that God loves us, that God’s love truly rules our
. John 15:1-8
This Sunday we hear the first part of the Vine
chapter in the Gospel According to John.
(Next Sunday we will hear the rest of the passage.)
The imagery of the vine or the vineyard is found in several powerful passages in the Hebrew
In the Song of the Vineyard in
John 15 focuses on the relation of the branches to the vine. The branches are where the fruit of the vine, the grapes, are actually produced. The branches can produce grapes because, and only because, they grow out of the main stalk of the vine.
The passage refers to the work of a good vineyard-keeper who cuts back the branches from year to year so they produce more and better clusters of grapes. The cutting back process is healthy and beneficial, but unproductive branches are cast aside to dry, then are burned.
The vine-and-branches language is strong medicine for a gospel message that is mainly about love. The branches are expected to provide “fruit,” and the failure to produce leads to discipline and exclusion.
The main fruit that God looks for from the branches of the true vine is love, but the mutual love described here certainly includes, also, the fruit looked for from the ancient vineyard of Isaiah’s Song, justice and righteousness (Isaiah 5:7).