The National Catholic Review
The Bible is populated with many characters that appear briefly and then vanish from the scene. Philip, the most prominent person in Acts 8, is one of these. Except for a brief mention of his name in 6:5 and 21:8, all we know about him involves two scenes of preaching--one to the Samaritans and one to the Ethiopian Eunuch. Yet he plays an important role in the expansion of Christianity in Acts. At the beginning of Acts, Jesus famously tells the apostles: "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (1:8). Essentially, this statement serves as the outline for Acts. The apostles receive the Spirit in chapter 2, they witness in Judea in 3-7, and in chapter 8, the proclamation of the word reaches Samaria in the person of Philip. The reading for this Sixth Sunday of Easter begins sparsely: "Philip went down to the city of Samaria..." The text does not say why he chose Samaria or why he even decided to preach in the first place. (He, like Stephen, was originally chosen to distribute food, not to preach.) Whatever the reason, his preaching was wildly successful. The converts even included Simon the sorcerer, known to later history as Simon Magus. The response of the Samaritans prompted Peter and John to follow Philip to Samaria, and when they get there, they aid in completing the work he began. After the apostles pray for and lay hands upon the Samaritans, the Holy Spirit descends, and the Christian community gains a foothold outside Judea. The next time Philip preaches, he does so at the urging of an angel (8:26). His meeting with the Ethiopian eunuch, therefore, is explicitly coordinated. What’s intriguing about today’s passage is that he seems to have no inkling that his work is a specific part of a divine plan. Like others who were scattered (8:4) after Stephen’s martyrdom, Philip simply preaches the Messiah wherever he happens to find himself. Søren Kierkegaard said that we live forward but understand backward. This certainly applies to Philip and the other characters in Acts. The entirety of God’s plan for them comes into focus only through hindsight. Philip’s activity in Samaria demonstrates that faith in the eventual knowledge of God’s plan can be powerful enough to initiate acts of discipleship. Kyle A. Keefer

Comments

Anonymous | 4/28/2008 - 8:42am
This short piece relays to me a very powerful insight into the facts and validity of the priesthood of every Christian believer. Perhaps one of the biggest systemic problems that ever got introduced into the Church of Jesus Christ was the artificial division we allowed between the 'clergy' and the 'laity'. It is very clear from the beautiful piece that the often neglected inputs of the 'laity' hold incredible capacities for generation impacts. Thus, the entire Church of Jesus Christ, world over, should be admonished to overhaul management policies and shift philosophies/paradigms of ministries in such ways as to accomodate and even encourage more of the so called 'laity' ministries in our communities.