5th May 2022
FORMALITY VERSUS POSSIBILITY
ACTS 8 : 26 – 40
PSALMS 66 : 8 – 9, 16 – 17,20
JOHN 6 : 44 – 51
Today’s First Reading urges us to put cautious rationality and formality on the shelf or far away and follow an unrestrained God into the world and be ready to be scandalized and left wondering as you go as to what that appeared impossible might now be possible. It is a reading that pushes our faith imagination to run wild, that is, to have the ability to deal resourcefully with unexpected or unusual problems or circumstances.
Why this urge or invitation to put rationality and formality on the shelf? It is this way because Philip has baptized an Ethiopian eunuch contrary to the formality and rationality of faith. Let us not forget that it is the eunuch who tells Philip after the Scripture has been explained to him, “See, here is water! What is to prevent my being baptized?” Philip does not even reply but immediately agrees to baptize him . This is a scandalous baptism. It is scandalous due to the fact that the man who has been baptized is a eunuch who in Leviticus 21: 20 and Deuteronomy 23:1 had been proscribed by law from participating in Israel’s worship because of being deformed in a way that affect his virility.
What does his baptism mean for all of us if the Gospel indeed is good news for all people, without exception? If his baptism went beyond formality then it is important first of all to know that formality has the advantage of evading misinterpretation and ambiguity in any work. Formality also allows you to avoid offending someone who might expect a certain degree of deference. Formality preserves order and brings compliance and normalcy and if Philip was to follow formality then these are the advantages that would have been seen.
As much as formality and rationalism have their advantages, if we are not careful enough, they can lead into inflexibility and rigidity, delay in decision making and lack of initiative and in matters of faith we cannot be too formal because too much of it will make us not see how genuine the faith of others brings out their determination and sincerity.
If Jesus was to follow formality and rationalism, how could he have healed lepers and other sick people in any given day including the Sabbath? How could he have interacted with sinners? How could the prodigal son be welcomed back home if his father was to follow formalities and rationalism?
By going against formality and rationalism in order to baptize the Ethiopian eunuch, Philip reminds us that the Good News will not travel to the ends of the earth primarily because of focus groups, strategic plans and demographic analyses but it will do so because individuals will gladly carry it there.
The Ethiopian eunuch reminds us that those of us who deeply and openly situate ourselves around formalities will not be able to see the possibility and capability of the Good News to bless and inspire. The Ethiopian eunuch is a mirror held up in front of we, the church, collectively. Whom do we see in that mirror? Who is missing and what is missing? Why? How daring and imaginative can we be in our faith? Can we see beyond the horizon of what is expected? Has too much formality and rationalism in matters of faith killed the passion and enthusiasm in those that the Father has drawn to Jesus as it is written in today’s Gospel reading?