Good Questions

This Sunday’s Scripture reading tells the story of an Ethiopian court official whose encounter with the evangelist Philip led him to faith in Christ (Acts 8:26-39). This Ethiopian Jew (yes, they exist!) of very high ranking and stature had recently traveled in his fancy “company chariot” to worship in Jerusalem and was headed back home on a wilderness road when Philip encountered him there, reading from a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Philip (who was something of a “nobody” in the presence of this powerful official) boldly asked him, “Do you understand what you are reading?” The Ethiopian replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?”

I’m struck by the humility with which the Ethiopian responded to Philip’s inquiry. If I had to venture a guess, I’d say that this court official was much more highly educated than the evangelist, and this distinction of status, class and education probably was evident to them both. I wouldn’t blame the Ethiopian for responding defensively to Philip’s line of questioning. “Excuse me? Don’t you know who I am? Are you aware of my qualifications, and the many responsibilities that my queen entrusts to me? And just who are you, anyway?” But no, his response to Philip is nothing like that. His question, “How can I, unless someone guides me,” indicates this foreigner’s openness to learning more, receiving new insight and growing as a person of faith. In fact, everything out of this man’s mouth in the rest of the story is a question – and these questions, good questions, are what the Holy Spirit uses to finally draw him into faith in Jesus Christ.

Questions – we shouldn’t be afraid of having them, we shouldn’t be afraid of asking them. We shouldn’t be afraid of looking stupid or think that the only purpose of questions is to harm faith or keep God at arms’ length. The Ethiopian official used questions as a way to invite another man of faith to help him achieve deeper insight, and in order to draw even closer to the truth found in God’s word. At the end of the story, the Ethiopian was claimed by Christ in the waters of baptism and became filled with newfound joy. Is it any surprise that the church in Ethiopia traces its origins back to this humble and inquisitive fellow, and the church in Ethiopia is strong and vibrant still today?