Then the angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, “Get up and head south on the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza, the desert route.” So he got up and set out. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of Candace, the queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury, who had come to Jerusalem to worship, and was returning home. Seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah.
The Spirit said to Philip, “Go and join up with that chariot.” Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” He replied, “How can I, unless someone instructs me?” So he invited Philip to get in and sit with him.This was the scripture passage he was reading:
“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
and as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
In (his) humiliation justice was denied him.
Who will tell of his posterity?
For his life is taken from the earth.”
Then the eunuch said to Philip in reply, “I beg you, about whom is the prophet saying this? About himself, or about someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth and, beginning with this scripture passage, he proclaimed Jesus to him. As they traveled along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “Look, there is water. What is to prevent my being baptized?” Then he ordered the chariot to stop, and Philip and the eunuch both went down into the water, and he baptized him. When they came out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, but continued on his way rejoicing.
Then the angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, “Get up and head south on the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza, the desert route.”
Don’t you hate it when God tells you to go take the desert route?
It’s easy to fall into the bad habit of judging our spiritual progress by how easily we are doing the right things, or how completely we live the virtuous life. Yesterday, I got a 95% on my morality, and an 85% on my prayer: I’m doing pretty good. Two days ago, I got a 72% on my morality… not so good. It’s easy to judge our progress by a standard of spotlessness.
But what happens when God asks us to take the desert route? There’s not much room for spotlessness there, not much chance that you’ll get everything right. No chance of us making it through the desert without getting dirty and disheveled. When life gets hard, we are going to make more mistakes. What then?
How do you think of yourself – and how your life is going – when you’ve got sand in your eyes, and you’re thirsty because there doesn’t seem to be any water around? What do you think of yourself and your life when prayer is difficult, when some old guard sin of yours keeps rearing its stubborn head, or a new face of sin decides to make an appearance?
This is life on the desert route, the way He sends His disciples.
The fact is though that God doesn’t require spotlessness from us. He doesn’t ask us to be squeaky clean or maintain an impeccable report card of our actions.
What the Lord desires is faithfulness – that, no matter how messy life gets or how monstrous our sins, we keep trying our hardest to do His will. Our closeness to God can’t be measured with numbers or scores. It’s measured by how faithful we are to God. The question isn’t how perfectly we’re doing what’s right, but whether or not we are constantly trying to do the will of our Father and Lord.
Faithfulness isn’t spotlessness – it’s perseverance in love.
The Lord knows that a disciple of His is not going to really flourish if he doesn’t have trials to test him, so He sends him on the desert route, to remind him how little he has. It also reminds him how little he really needs, other than God. God will provide the company he needs, God will provide the sustenance and the shelter. God will provide the virtue and the grace to live an upright life, which isn’t going to look like spotlessness, but rather a person who falls 70 times 7 times, and continues putting one foot in front of the other towards God and His throne.
When we’re on the desert route, we’re humbled, and we must depend on God more intensely. This will allow us to be empty vessels, ready to be filled with the Holy Spirit, ready to bring that Spirit to those whose chariots we must join up with. And when we do, they will see all the clearer that it is Christ who has caught up with them on the road.
-Fr. Chris Perrella