Weekly Bible Reflection
Mark's Alternative Economy
The Fifth Sunday of Easter
Text: Acts 8. 26-end "A Chance Encounter "
Begin by using the Bible Study method as outlined
Have you ever experienced an inner compulsion to do something, to phone someone, to go somewhere, which you felt was being prompted by the Holy Spirit? Did you sense that it was from God – either at the time or later? What made you certain that it was not purely circumstantial?
A Window on the Text
The gospel is already reaching beyond the narrow confines of Judea and Samaria. The power promised by Jesus (Acts 1: 5-8) given to the disciples on the Day of Pentecost, to live differently and bear witness to him to the uttermost parts of the earth, is starting to become a reality.
Luke tells of the high-ranking God fearing Ethiopian official on his way home from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. As he travels along he is reading the Hebrew Scriptures from the prophet Isaiah (v30). Philip, having responded to God’s prompting to ‘go south’, ‘happens’ to be on the same road.
When he hears the man, reading aloud from the scroll, he catches up and runs alongside the chariot and engages him in purposeful conversation. This results in Philip linking Jesus with the ‘suffering servant’ of Isaiah Ch 53 and from it explaining the gospel. The man is convinced and converted. We are not told how long the conversation lasted but in the end the man asks to be baptised.
Nothing is known about what happened next to this first Northern African convert, but from earliest times there has been a Christian (Coptic) Church in Ethiopia. Did he continue to bear witness to Christ and share the good news of Jesus and the resurrection? Clearly this man was an important and influential official in his country’s government. From God’s perspective, it was a strategic conversion. Tantalising possibilities!
Responding as a community
- Was Philip’s experience of God’s guidance any different from our own today? Is it important to respond to inner promptings to do something, or have we grown used to ignoring them?
- Clearly, God was at work ahead of Philip, preparing the Ethiopian for a life-changing conversation. To what extent do we have an expectation that God is at work ahead of us in the lives of the people we meet? How do we discern what God is already doing? Are there principles that we can use from this encounter story with the people we meet?
- How important to your Christian community today is personal conversion, as part of the overall proclamation of the reign of God?
In your circle of prayer name those people whom you know who are ‘close to the kingdom’.
Pray for the gift of discernment that you might know what God is already doing in the lives of the people you have contact with.
Some Christians speak very freely about being told to do things by God, but is this really a way of expressing a very firm conviction that God had been directing, rather than an unusually supernatural means of communication outside of the normal experience?
Is this just how the Holy Spirit directs and guides us? Or, is it ‘shorthand’ for what is a much more complex process of an inner compulsion, confirmed on subsequent reflection and by later events?
How Philip received his instructions to ‘go south’ we are not told, other than from ‘an angel of the Lord’ - ‘one who is sent’ or ‘a messenger’, whose identity is not disclosed - but this was a sufficiently convincing message which Philip (and Luke) obviously believed was from the Lord. He went about 60 miles down the desert road towards Gaza, on the road towards Egypt, and Africa.
He received a strong sense of the Lord directing him, but the purpose was not disclosed so he travelled in obedience to this prompting of the Spirit.
Mark's Alternative Economy - Discussion