Throughout the Easter season, the scripture readings proclaim the meaning of the Resurrection, turning it so that we see it in different lights, adding to its dimensions and import. Here, again, the assembly receives an image from John’s Gospel that depicts the church in an intimate relationship with the risen one. Branches cannot live without the vine.
By virtue of his baptism, the eunuch becomes a member of the body of Christ, a branch on the tree of life. In this story, we see that those touched by the word of God need not only Christ, the lamb “led to the slaughter,” but also each other. The eunuch needed Philip to help enter the water. The branches represented by Philip and eventually the Ethiopian eunuch (after his baptism), come together because God’s word drives them toward their meeting.
A part of the last discourse of Jesus at the Last Supper, the image of the vine and the branches offers an organic understanding of the relationship between Jesus and the community of faith. In this gardening image, the Father is the vine grower and Jesus is the vine who gives life to all who hear the word and bear fruit. Branches which do not bear fruit or which wither on the vine will be pruned and thrown away. . . .
John likes to use wisdom imagery to talk about Jesus; so it is not surprising that he picks it up here. The vine and the branches present a somewhat different understanding of church than Paul’s “Body of Christ” (I Cor. 12:12ff.). The two stand in tension with one another and form and shape each other. – Mary Katharine Deeley
After Stephen’s martyrdom, the apostles were scattered throughout the area. Chapter 8 and after records their exploits in various parts of the country, eventually leading to the gentile territories. Among those who traveled in Samaria and beyond, Philip proves a powerful preacher and God guides the encounter between Philip and an Ethiopian eunuch.
The story prepares us for the mission to the gentiles by including the details of God’s intervention in this particular scene. Clearly, in Luke’s mind, God intends to spread the good news beyond the confines of Judah and Jerusalem. That the Ethiopian is a eunuch echoes Isaiah’s prophecy that eunuchs who are faithful will have a place in the LORD’s house (Is 56:4–5). Eunuchs were originally excluded from participation in the community. The passage the eunuch is reading is the famous “Suffering Servant” passage from Isaiah which, from early in the church’s history, Christians thought applied to Jesus. It gives Philip the perfect opportunity to proclaim the good news. – Mary Katharine Deeley
Again and again, God’s word shows us an expansive and expanding community brought together by the promise of the gospel, the assurance of acceptance and forgiveness. Even persons as shunned as eunuchs (among those considered deformed and unable to enter the holy places) are welcomed. Who are the eunuchs of our age? of the ages to come? The good news calls us all to a love that shatters all closed doors.
1 John 4:7-21
Love has become a mushy concept in our culture. Love often means romantic feelings or sweet affections or pleasing interactions. 1 John reminds us about the content of Christian love. 1 John speaks of the active nature of love with its sacrificial outreaches. 1 John insists that love acts, works, and changes. Sometimes we imagine God has come into the world to help us feel all right about ourselves or to help us feel better esteemed.
Biblical reality reveals that God sends his love, his forgiveness in order to change us, in order to make us different people, transformed people. When God looks out at the world and says, “I am going to fix that,” he does that by spreading his arms out in love and forgiving us. Christian love will always have this element of sacrifice within it. – H. Gregory Waldrop
Mary Katharine Deeley is the director of Christ the Teacher Institute of the Sheil Catholic Center, the Roman Catholic campus ministry at Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois. She is the author of many books, a frequent speaker on diverse topics, and a pastoral advisor.
H. Gregory Waldrop was baptized in Mayfield, Kentucky in 1954 and ordained in Atwood, Tennessee in 1981. He is a United Methodist pastor serving Fountain Avenue United Methodist Church in Paducah, Kentucky.
Homily Service 39, no. 6 (2006): 12-21.