Of Eunuchs and Social Non-Contributors

REQUIRED READING: Before reading this post, head over to experimental psychologist Richard Beck's wonderful blog Experimental Theology and read the post The Exclusion and Inclusion of Eunuchs and the associated comments. This post serves as my contribution to that discussion.

The "eunuch story" may, at least in part, speak to the issue of social contribution or function. It seems that great emphasis was given to function in the old covenant "congregation of the Lord". In modern Evangelical terms, we would say that the "commission" of old covenant community focused around the growth of the Jewish nation, particularly in terms of the "be fruitful and multiply" directive. What we think of as evangelism wasn't a primary focus — having and raising children with a particular worldview and a peculiar kind of monotheism was. Eunuchs could not contribute to this social mandate, and were therefore viewed as vestigials, as supernumeraries. There was a central religious goal, and these eunuchs were people who, having no way to further that goal, had no place in the religious community.

So, when the Spirit of the Lord went to miraculous lengths to ensure that the first known Christian non-Jewish convert was both of an alien culture and a "functionless" eunuch, he clearly intended to make us think about what it means to have "function" within the new covenant community of faith, and further: about how the Christian community, like a family, must embrace a non-utilitarian society.

In the Ethiopian eunuch, I see every person that typically would be relegated to the non-contributing "others" of society: the irritants, the wastes-of-time, the hangers-on. I see friends with Aspergers and autism spectrum disorders and severe depression and body odor. I see psychopaths and addicts and narcissists. I see people with unusual humor and inconsiderate conversational habits. Communities formed on utilitarian goals or on the fulfillment of mutual self-need, would leave all these people behind, but the community of Christ continually redefines itself in order to accommodate them.

I think of an illustration I heard years ago, told by Floyd McClung of the missions agency All Nations. The "Assembly of the Lord" seems to change motifs in the new covenant. Paul, at any rate, impresses on us a vision for the Kingdom of Christ that looks and lives like a family. He emphasizes the moral: "let the stronger give way to the weaker". We see this dynamic daily in familial roles. When a baby enters a family, she enters as a non-contributor. This is a person who never cleans up after herself, never prepares her own food, never considers how her needs, her wants, and her moods affect other participants in the family. She currently serves no function, and considered outside an atmosphere of love, she must be a continual annoyance. But the stronger gives way to the weaker. The family changes its sleep patterns to accommodate the child. The meal choices, the schedules, and the entertainment decisions of the family all shift and form around the immature, functionless, non-contributing, selfish little addition. But that's okay. She is loved. She is young and she will grow, if they give her of themselves. After a few years, she will learn to do things for herself and for others.

I know what it is to be, to some degree, that social irritant. But I have grown. And this is due principally to the loving embrace of some few brothers and sisters of Christ, who chose to endure my social stupidity and my arrogance, and gave me their time. They gave me themselves. That is what family does. The stronger gives way to the weaker.

And now I know first hand that the community patterned after the heart of God intentionally includes the maladjusted, the awkward, and the outcast, even to the detriment of "the perfect social atmosphere". Loving non-contributors is inconvenient, messy, unpredictable and disruptive. You will have to pay for someone's meal that you never "should have" had to pay for. You will have to leave a great social event early, just to take your friend with Aspergers home, because all the social activity is getting to be too much for her. You will have to ask forgiveness on someone else's behalf. You will have to stay late to clean dishes and furniture stains. You will have to plan into your week spending time with people who do nothing for you. The community not only includes but "gives way to". The people of Christ alter their schedules, their sleep patterns, their financial plans, and their leisure times, for the benefit of people who may not even be capable now of recognizing those gifts.

This is the practice of unconditional love. The church will grow more by that practice in itself, than anything that could be done by avoiding all the "time wasters". Whatever is gained by avoiding them of time, comfort and money, is lost to apathy, impatience and unlove. We must, as a community, accept the medicine we have taken to be prescribed to ourselves as individuals: "the community that seeks to save its life will lose it, but the community that loses its life for Christ's sake will gain it."

"For Christ's sake", you say, "not their sake!"?

I hear Jesus answer, "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."

I encourage you to consider leaving your comments on Richard Beck's original post, unless it is peculiarly related to this post and does not particularly contribute to the larger discussion.

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