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Gospel-centered solidarity on the road to Gaza

The New Testament story of the Ethiopian eunuch is well-known for various reasons. Its mention of Gaza is not usually one of them.

Illuminated scene of Acts 8 from the "Menologion of Basil II". (Мастер Георгий)

How far would you go to find a deeper connection with God? For me, it's usually just a hop into my car and a quick drive to my parish for Mass or Confession. But imagine embarking on a journey of 1,500 to 2,000 miles, crossing deserts and foreign lands, driven solely by an unquenchable thirst for God. This was the reality for the high-ranking eunuch from Ethiopia, as recounted in Acts chapter 8.

When I enter my parish, I’m able to go right into a pew. The Ethiopian eunuch was likely not allowed to enter the worship area because of his castration, excluded from the temple by the restriction found in the Mosaic Law (Deuteronomy 23:1). Even so, his thirst for God led him into foreign lands and to read and believe holy books from another culture. Through his reading of the Jewish prophet Isaiah, the eunuch was piecing together that even though he wasn’t fully welcomed in the Temple, there was hope in “an everlasting name that will endure forever.” (Isaiah 56:5)

The Jewish Christian evangelist and deacon Philip, led by the Holy Spirit, came to his assistance:

“An angel of the Lord said to him, ‘Go south down the desert road that runs from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ So he started out, and he met the treasurer of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under the Kandake, the queen of Ethiopia. The eunuch had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and he was now returning. Seated in his carriage, he was reading aloud from the book of the prophet Isaiah.

The Holy Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go over and walk along beside the carriage.’”
(Acts 8:26-29)

This wasn’t the first time Philip was led by the Spirit, but approaching a man of such status and asking, “Do you understand what you are reading?” surely wasn’t the most comfortable thing to do.

Philip ran over and heard the man reading from the prophet Isaiah. Philip asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’

The man replied, ‘How can I, unless someone instructs me?’ And he urged Philip to come up into the carriage and sit with him.
(Acts 8:30-31)

The eunuch’s hunger and thirst for God enabled him to humbly receive help from Philip, who offered him a solidarity in faith that he almost certainly didn’t find in Jerusalem.

In this encounter, Philip unraveled the profound connection between the prophecies in the Book of Isaiah and the fulfillment found in Christ’s death and resurrection, highlighting the divine timing and solidarity of God’s plan.

The passage of Scripture he had been reading was this:

‘He was led like a sheep to the slaughter. And as a lamb is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth. He was humiliated and received no justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.’

The eunuch asked Philip, ‘Tell me, was the prophet talking about himself or someone else?’ So beginning with this same Scripture, Philip told him the Good News about Jesus.
(Acts 8:32-35)

Notably, Acts 8 is the only passage in which Gaza is specifically mentioned in the New Testament. It is fitting that a passage in which Philip unraveled prophecies for an outcast still holds meaning for the occupants of a war-torn area 2,000 years later. The Gospel message liberated the eunuch on the way to Gaza back then. The same Gospel message has the power to liberate the oppressed inhabitants there today, as well as us.

There are concrete ways we can support the civilians of Gaza, even now from afar. Firstly, we can educate ourselves and others about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by researching and sharing accurate information. Secondly, we can offer our prayers for peace, particularly through the intercession of Mary. Drawing from my own experience, I remember how my mother acted as a peacemaker during conflicts among us siblings. Similarly, as Catholics, we can turn to Mary, the ultimate peacemaker, by praying fervently for those caught in the crossfire in Gaza.

The Holy Spirit will most likely not place us on the road to Gaza as was done with Philip, but these actions, though seeming small, can contribute to a greater movement of solidarity and support for the oppressed Palestinians.

As they rode along, they came to some water, and the eunuch said, ‘Look! There’s some water! Why can’t I be baptized?’ He ordered the carriage to stop, and they went down into the water, and Philip baptized him.

When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away. The eunuch never saw him again but went on his way rejoicing. Meanwhile, Philip found himself farther north at the town of Azotus. He preached the Good News there and in every town along the way until he came to Caesarea.
(Acts 8:36-39)

We need to be open to receiving God’s freedom and actively living it. Like our Lord, we can feel like sheep led to slaughter. That is the reality of the harsh world we live in. Many of us are dealt blows of discrimination due to our race, disabilities, and beliefs. We have a choice to die and be reborn with Christ like the Ethiopian, or to wallow and suffocate in our misery.

That is the joy and hope of the gospel—a steadfast companionship with Jesus here on earth and the promise of eternal life. I know I have been blessed with good health and the prospect of the American dream, but many people haven't. Yet, the freedom I have found is in Christ and in a Church that nourishes me. God’s love in our lives doesn’t erase traumas or eliminate racial biases; rather, it creates a new spirit in us. A spirit like that of the Ethiopian, who went on his way rejoicing. 

The challenge for us today is to see whose shoes we currently fit best: Philip or the eunuch. Are we in need of spiritual assistance and solidarity in faith, or are we the ones who need to give and to build it? If you are like the Ethiopian, stay rooted in your love for God. Let that hunger for him motivate you to persevere through all your setbacks. If you are like Philip, ensure you stay attuned to the Holy Spirit. Keep stepping outside of your comfort zone, because without God working through you, the outcasts on the same road will miss out on the joy of the Christian life. 

Reflecting on this account of the Ethiopian eunuch, we are reminded of the great distances we have spiritually traveled on our faith journey. It should motivate us to continue living out our own faith with the same vigor and openness. Moreover, it serves as a powerful rebuttal to the common misconception that Christianity is a White man’s religion, as it is historically recorded in Acts as arriving in the core of Africa.

Oh, what a joy it is to be part of a faith that has the power to transcend cultural, economic, and physical barriers!

Joseph Peach is a Catholic author, freelance writer, and speaker. He works for Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Cleveland and has published six books.

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