For his life was taken from the earth.”
The passage of scripture that the Ethiopian and Phillip look at comes from the book of Isaiah and is called a ‘Servant Song.’ The early church read this and other servant songs, which spoke of one to come to Israel’s rescue, but who would also suffer, and saw Jesus. This gives us a chance to reflect on the mission of Jesus a bit.
In the original Hebrew ‘life was taken’ is literally ‘life was cut off,’ and now we see why the Eunuch was so interested in this passage of scripture. In this particular Hebrew tradition, the one to rescue and renew was not triumphant or victorious through power or strength, but the one who was cut off. He who was discarded, cast out, put down, is the redeemer of Israel. The worthless are of great worth in the economy of God.
Reflecting back on the life of Jesus there are many places in which the worthless are given worth. In some cases Jesus does this work simply by exposing the sin of the people doing the evaluating, as in the story of Zacchaeus. It wasn’t that he was worthless, but that the people, wrongly considered him so. In other cases Jesus would not only expose the cultural system of exclusion, but also heal those excluded, such as lepers. Another example would be the woman caught in adultery in John. Jesus exposes both the hypocrisy of the cultural system and then commands/enables the woman to ‘go and sin no more.’
This leads me to conclude that the church exists, was created by Christ, as a staging ground for disciples to go out to the cut off, the excluded, the shamed. And once we are out there, to empower those considered worthless, who perhaps consider themselves worthless, to no longer live as the excluded, but as the valued and the worthy. According the gospels, this happens when people experience the love of Christ. Which challenges us in a couple of ways. It challenges those of us who are currently the church, because it asks us to stop sitting in the pews wondering where the people are, and demands that we go to them. It challenges us to create relationships which nurture the discouraged. A houseplant left with little water or light, withered, wilted and close to death, does not spring back to life immediately. Care and patience are required. And it challenges us to set aside the identities that society has put on people; welfare recipient, unemployed, single-mother, food-stamp user, (and that list could go on an don) so that we see each person as a child of God for whom Christ chose to be cut off.
As challenging as this is, this sheds new light on evangelism, which is such a necessary part of the church, but which frightens us so. We go into the world as evangelists, to the unloved, with love. To those considered worthless with a message of welcome and a belief of potential...