Snatched Away

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An angel of the  Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road  that  goes down  from Jerusalem to Gaza. This was a  wilderness road (Acts 8:26). Perhaps Philip was  sitting comfortably   somewhere in Samaria, after preaching the gospel there. In the previous chapter we read  about   how Philip was sharing the  gospel to the  ‘good Samaritans’  and how they  accepted the  good news with an open  heart. It was truly a  big catch of souls for   Jesus because  Samaritans were traditionally  hated by  the  Hebraic Jews. Encouraged by the  quick results  of his ministry, Philip would have been too happy to   continue  somewhere  nearby.  But the  angel of the Lord often comes at  the most unexpected of times. God knew that the  assignment of Philip in Samaria has to  be suspended for the time being so as to  relieve him  for  another important  work somewhere else. 

For this, an angel of the Lord made  him get up and  proceed toward the south  and   join the  desert road from Jerusalem to Gaza. But Philip was still in the dark.  He didn’t know where he was  heading  to nor  did he know the purpose of  this  urgent journey. Nevertheless he  obeyed the command from heaven and  set out for  an   unknown destination  with an undisclosed  purpose.  When he reached the highway to Gaza, he met an Ethiopian eunuch returning from Jerusalem  after worshipping. He was a court official of the  queen of Ethiopia and  was in charge of her entire treasury.  

Now let us  have  a quick look at the book of Deuteronomy, chapter 23.  It opens with the prohibition of  eunuchs to enter  the temple. They were  considered unclean in those days. Then how  did this  eunuch from Ethiopia come  to  worship at  the temple?  We do not know the exact circumstances, but  one thing is  sure.  His heart was open to the Lord and what the Lord said. When Philip saw him, he was reading  the  prophecy of Isaiah about Jesus Christ; ‘Like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its  shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By a perversion of  justice he was taken away. Who could have  imagined his future? For he was cut off from the  land of the living (Isaiah 53:7-8).

But I presume  he must have read  Isaiah 66:2 also before coming to the temple. ‘But this is the one  whom I will look, to the humble and  contrite in spirit, who trembles at my word’. It is  not  a mere coincidence that Isaiah was the  prophet who declared that  the Lord welcomed   eunuchs also to the temple. ‘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’ ( Isaiah 56:4-5).

Indeed, the Lord looked at the eunuch  who  respected  His Word, kept His sabbaths, did things pleasing to the God and  held fast to His covenant, with  mercy and sent  His apostle to him. Philip’s work was already half done, because  the eunuch was  ready to listen. In fact  he invited Philip to  get in  the chariot and sit beside him in the hope  that Philip would explain the  scripture for him. This is what we  call openness to the Divine Word. His   heart  was the perfect field prepared in advance to  receive the seed of gospel which Philip would sow.  We are  familiar with what happened  next.  Philip explained the prophecies  to the eunuch starting from the scripture which  the  eunuch was reading and proclaimed the good news about Jesus and  finally  baptized him.

Here ends the  story, or so we think. No, there is something more to it.  What happened to the eunuch and Philip  after  this ‘preaching in  chariot’  and consequent baptism?  Even before the  eunuch  could thank Philip, he was nowhere. ‘When they  came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more and  went on his way  rejoicing’ (Acts 8:39). Philip simply vanished into thin air, so thought the eunuch. He  continued his journey  happily, realising the  joy of meeting  Christ.  As for Philip, Holy Spirit   snatched him away (certain translations use took away,  caught away, carried away etc). In a moment, Philip  found himself at  Azotus where also he proclaimed the  good news.

This brings to our mind  another person who was  carried away by the Holy  Spirit. Prophet Habakkuk was on his way to his field with stew and broken bread meant for his reapers. But the angel of the Lord intercepted him and told  him to go to Babylon and give the bread and stew to  Daniel,in the lion’s den. Habakkuk knew nothing about Babylon, Daniel or the  den where he was kept. ‘Then the angel of the Lord took him by the crown of his head and carried him  by his hair; with the speed of the wind he set him down in Babylon, right over the den’ (Dan.14:36). When the assigned task was accomplished, the angel of the Lord immediately  returned Habakkuk  to his own place.

Every prophet and every  Apostle is  guided by the Holy Spirit. They are  carried away by the Spirit. They are snatched away from  a particular  situation and delivered at another  location.  It is the Holy Spirit who directs them. Left to himself Philip would have  continued to preach in Samaria. If not for the  Holy Spirit, he would have    returned to Samaria instead of Azotus after baptizing the eunuch. Unless the  angel of God confronted  Habakkuk, he would have  gone straight to his field.   This is the case with every person who lives in the Spirit.  They have no  pre-fixed tour programmes. They have no  prepared texts to deliver. They simply do whatever is prompted by the Holy Spirit.

We know  the history of the disciples before  they received the  Holy Spirit. They were ordinary  and  simple people.  When Jesus appeared to them after resurrection, they were hiding  inside  the house for fear of  the Jews. The defining moment in their life  as apostles was the coming of the Holy Spirit. Since then, there  was no looking back. Those who received the anointment  of Holy Spirit were  transformed into  valiant soldiers of  Christ. Their enemies rightly called them ‘people who have been turning the  world upside down’ (Acts 17:6). It was the direct result of the disciples becoming totally new creations  with the pouring down of the Holy Spirit on them. ‘So if  anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation’ (2 Cori. 5:17). Once they become  a new creation, then it is the Holy spirit  who  leads them. A new creation  will not have an independant  agenda except the one dictated by the Lord. They  go along with the wind, which is  Holy Spirit. The wind takes them to  distant shores and drops them right over  the dens where the   gospel is most needed.  When the assigned task is completed the same Holy Spirit takes them by their hair to drop  them at the  next location.

When they rise to speak, the Holy Spirit puts the correct words into their tongue. When they turn to the right or when they turn to the left, the Holy Spirit will gently remind  them from  behind; ‘This is the way, walk in it’ (Isaiah 30:21).  When they lay their hands, the sick are  healed, because they are anointed with  Spirit. They will open the doors of the prison by praying and singing ( Acts 16:25) because the Holy Spirit  takes their  prayers to heaven instantly..   

What we were discussing  until now was about the  acts of the Apostles. It  happened   long  ago. What is  its relevance in our days? Because our Blessed Mother fondly calls us  the 

‘ Apostles of the end  times’. Whether it is in the early centuries or in the latter days, the duty of  an apostle is  the  same.  To preach, to preach and to preach the  gospel. If the duty is same, the means to achieve it  also should be the  same.  If the  apostles mustered the courage to  proclaim the  good news with the help of Holy Spirit,  it is no different in our times also.

Get up, you, the  valiant   Apostles  of the end times. Position yourself on the way where many will come thirsting for the  Word. Help them understand the scripture and let them go in  peace.  Do not worry about your  next  destination.  It  is for the Holy Spirit to decide. You need to simply  surrender yourself to what the Spirit tells you. Act now. Our acts are also being  written in the books of heaven. 

In the book of Daniel we read that the  angel of  the Lord  set Habakkuk in Babylon with the  ‘speed of  the wind’. Time is short and  we  also need to  rush with the speed of the wind.  Let us pray to the Holy Spirit for the   help to  proclaim the  true gospel in these  days when false teachings abound.

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