The Thing Behind the Thing

We are all born with an instinct to protect ourselves (and our communities) from those who are different from ourselves.  It's an instinct that all people have, not just the "unenlightened."  The first step in wisely moving outward from our communities is in admitting that we all have this instinct.

Jesus challenged this instinct, of course, by having fellowship with people that not only "didn't belong," but who were even seen as unclean or cursed.  He embraced them and introduced them to the Kingdom of God.  The "thing behind the thing" is that the good news of Jesus is for everyone, including those whom we might not even realize we've become accustomed to seeing as "outsiders."

Acts 8:26-40 

The Ethiopian eunuch is an extremely important character for our understanding of the radical change the good news of Jesus makes to God's covenant with people ("New Testament" actually means "new covenant.")  Why?

1) He was unclean according to Jewish law.  There are objective reasons for this; it wasn't just a matter of Jewish opinion.  But the salient point is that the Ethiopian existed in a condition he could not change that made him an outsider.

2) He was a foreigner, outside of the Israelite covenant people.  Luke tells us he had come to Jerusalem to worship God, and we do know that non-Jews would sometimes choose to worship Yahweh as their god.  But that did not make them an insider, that is, a member of God's covenant.  That belonged to the circumcised people who shared an ancestry with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

And yet, Luke chose this Ethiopian's conversion story to be the first individual story of conversion to Christ, and subsequent baptism, in the history of the Church.  

1) Why do you think Luke chose this story to be the first individual story of someone's conversion and baptism in Christ?

2) Who in your society or community would people see as "unclean" or an "outsider"?

3) Who in your mind and heart do you feel is "unclean" or an "outsider"?

4) How does it make you feel to consider that: a)  Jesus' death and resurrection mean eternal life for "outsiders" or "unclean" people?  b) the good news of Jesus might even place priority to those seen as "outsiders" or "unclean"?

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