Reading: Acts 8: 26-40
Many things have been written about the meeting between Philip and the Ethiopian official – from the fact of this enquirer’s black African heritage to his position at the Court; from the implication that he followed the Jewish faith to the suggestion that God brought them together. However, there is one part of this passage that leaps out every time I read it.
Philip says to him “Do you understand what you are reading” and the Ethiopian says “How can I understand unless someone explains it to me?” So Philip does…
But two things come into mind. The first is that many of us struggle with understanding things we read in our Bibles. (And that includes ministers who, having read the texts and studied for years still wrestle with them!) I have often had difficulties with “doing Bible Study” So many seem reluctant to try – and I have often been told “I am not clever enough”
or “I am afraid of seeming stupid” So instead we shared the Word, and said what we felt it was saying to us today. That way there is no wrong way – just a personal interpretation that speaks to us as individuals.
The second thing is the assumption that we have to understand everything to take part. I remember a discussion once about a young woman with Down’s Syndrome who wanted to receive Communion. The Elders were against it – in case she did not understand what it was really about. The minister responded by saying “Do any of us?” (Grace got Communion!)
The Word of God is for every age and every era. Making sense of Scripture is a wrestling with the help of the Holy Spirit, trying to hear God speaking here and now through words remembered and written down centuries ago. It is a challenge and a privilege to hear and to share in this never-ending story. When I was at Theological College the then Moderator of the URC, David Jenkins preached in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity on the great shoal of fish. His text was “They called to their partners in the other boat” This, he said, was
true ecumenism – not that they all got into one boat, but that they worked together to land the catch. I have never forgotten it – and inspired interpretation is not reserved for theologians like David, but sometimes can be given even to us!
God bless you all.
Revd Barbara Bennet