God created us as physical and spiritual beings. We have both physical and spiritual appetites. Those who try to deny their physical appetites can find themselves becoming very unwell. Those who fail to find something to satisfy their spiritual appetite can also struggle in life. In the 2pm SLT service on Thursday, the readings were Psalm 66:7-8, 14-end, Acts 8:26-end, John 6:44-51. In the passage from Acts the story of the Ethiopian eunuch is told, how he came to be baptised as a Christian as a result of an encounter with Philip. His spiritual hunger had found something to satisfy it and he went on his way rejoicing. My full reflection is given below:
During the 1990’s breatharianism hit the headlines. Breatharianism is the belief that food and water are not necessary to people’s wellbeing as they can be fed by ‘prana’ which is the life force according to Hinduism, or by the energy in sunlight. A person called Jasmuheen claimed that she could live for months without anything to eat at all, with just the occasional cup of tea or a chocolate biscuit because she liked the taste. She volunteered to be monitored by an Australian TV programme to demonstrate that this worked over the period of a week. She was checked by an eminent doctor and after four days he stopped the test as he was convinced that she would soon do her kidneys permanent damage.
Although Jasmuheen claimed that thousands of people successfully lived on nothing but air, there was no evidence to support her claim. On the contrary, there are high profile cases of people who died as a result of trying to live as she advocated. One victim was Verity Linn who went to the Highlands of Scotland to live in a tent in order to begin to live the breatharian diet. She died of dehydration and hypothermia, not surprisingly.
Although some gullible people are taken in by ‘gurus’ such as Jasmuheen, most people can easily work out that human beings are designed to eat and drink. Right at the beginning of the Bible God tells the first humans that he has given them ‘every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.’ Jesus lived on earth as a man. If anyone was capable of being a breatharian, you would think it would be Jesus. However, he ate and drank, even being accused of living like a glutton and a drunkard. He proved he was ‘real’ after his resurrection by eating a piece of fish. He recognised that the people who had followed him and listened all day needed food, so he fed 5000 men, plus women and children.
God gave us appetites and he has given us the means to satisfy them. We are not just physical beings, but spiritual also, and we have a spiritual appetite. Some people choose to live as spiritual breatharians, showing in their chosen lifestyle that they believe they can live without spiritual nourishment and still be healthy but others recognise their need for spiritual food such as Jesus offers us.
In the passage from Acts we meet someone who knew he was spiritually hungry. The Ethiopian eunuch had been worshipping in Jerusalem and was on his way home. Judaism attracted many people at that time. It was well known due to the large number of Jews who lived all over the Roman Empire. The Jews lived in a way that was different from their Gentile neighbours but they were happy to have other people join them. As Jews used the Greek language in their synagogue worship and the Scriptures were translated into Greek (the Septuagint, so called because it was supposed to have been translated by 70 scholars) their religion was easy to access by others.
Greeks and Romans were finding their own cultures to be morally bankrupt and their religions to be spiritually unsatisfying. They were looking for something else, something better. They were attracted to the high moral standards which were upheld by the Jews. Some Gentiles became proselytes, meaning that they followed all the laws in the Hebrew Scriptures asked of the Jews. Others were classed as ‘God-fearers’, and simply accepted the moral teaching of the Old Testament.
It’s likely that the Ethiopian was a God-fearer. As a eunuch he is unlikely to have been allowed to undergo the proselyte baptism and so fully convert to Judaism. Deuteronomy 23:1 states that ‘no one whose testicles are crushed or whose male organ is cut off shall enter the assembly of the Lord.’ He owned a scroll with at least part of the book of Isaiah on it, so he must have been serious in his following of Judaism. No doubt the scroll would have cost a lot of money.
We can hear of his spiritual thirst when he talks to Philip. Philip asked him, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ He replied, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’ He would hardly have said that unless he really cared what the reading from Isaiah meant. He even had a specific question: ‘About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?’ Philip then had the opportunity to explain the Good News to him.
It seems that at the end of the time explaining scripture, Philip must have offered the Ethiopian the chance to be baptised. He asks the question, ‘What is to prevent me from being baptised?’ suggesting that he has been refused before when wanting to convert to Judaism. This time there was no refusal. The water was there, Philip was there and there was no barrier to stand in the eunuch’s way. He was baptised there and then.
Jesus said, ‘No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me.’ Judaism acted for the Ethiopian like a scent, drawing him to Jesus. Before he met Philip he was the spiritual equivalent to the hungry street urchin, drawn to the pie shop by the wonderful aroma of newly baked pies. But like that urchin, all he could do was stand with his nose pressed against the shop window, looking longingly at the pies displayed there without being able to eat them. Now, God had said to him, ‘Taste and see that the Lord is good.’ No longer was he excluded but fully incorporated into the body of Christ.
We don’t know what he thought about the sudden disappearance of Philip but we’re told he went on his way rejoicing. I imagine he would have continued to read the book of Isaiah with new eyes which had been opened by Philip’s teaching. Had the Ethiopian continued from where he left off he would have found just how good the Lord is. The reading which he asked Philip about was from Isaiah 53 but listen to what he would have read in Isaiah 56:
Do not let the foreigner joined to the LORD say,
‘The LORD will surely separate me from his people’;
and do not let the eunuch say,
‘I am just a dry tree.’
For thus says the LORD:
To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths,
who choose the things that please me
and hold fast my covenant,
I will give, in my house and within my walls,
a monument and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that shall not be cut off.
Can you imagine a more healing passage for the eunuch to read? Years of rejection wiped away in the embrace of God. As Jesus had promised, he was being ‘taught by God’ just how much he was loved and accepted.
The very fact that we are gathered here tells us that we too have had the scent of the bread of heaven wafting in our nostrils and have come to find the source of the aroma. As God provided so wonderfully to satisfy the spiritual hunger of the Ethiopian, we can trust that he will do the same for us also. We too can ‘Taste and see that the Lord is good.’
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor