Great thoughts about how Simeon’s lack of genitalia and/or gender, mind you, would have kept him on the fringes of the faith community pre-Gospel days, but how inclusive the Gospel is that there is “…neither male or female in Christ!” Good thoughts from a good friend (whose blog can be found here):
By Drew Harper
Imagine with me.Your parents name you Simeon, but you do not remember your parents well at all. You were taken from them when you were very young. You were designated to be a servant of the State, and you were raised by a governess. You study philosophy and foreign language, history and civics. Your tutor teaches you military strategy, but somehow you know that no one expects you to serve in the armed forces. While the other kids your age are throwing javelins, you are struggling through Plato. You can tell that you are different than most people. You can’t wait, however, to study your favorite subject – world religions.
You are ruthless in your devotion to your country. At age seventeen, your beloved King dies, and after a period of mourning, a new ruler is crowned – a Queen. You are called in to the Prime Minister’s office. He tells you that you were chosen to be in the court of the new queen. Your dedication has paid off. You notice that you are a head taller than the Prime Minister before you, and almost everyone else you’ve met for that matter.
You serve with distinction for many years – it is all you have ever done. You never married nor took a lover – you were told many times that you could not. You don’t mind, however, because palace life is more than comfortable. You wonder if your parents are still living and if you would have had the quality of life you now have if you were raised like a “normal” kid. Your kingdom is experiencing an unprecedented period of peace.
You are well-loved in the palace, but your services are no longer essential to the court. The Queen grants you sabbatical, and you head out to see with your eyes all the foreign lands you have read about. You are especially entranced with a culture who claims there is only one God. Your tutors laughed at you when you suggested that it might be true. You want to know for yourself.
With you on your journey is the Scroll of Isaiah – your personal copy. You are reading it aloud in Greek, practicing the language for your upcoming trip to the city. Suddenly, you meet a man called Phillip who explains the text to you. He tells you about a new teacher who had died but who is alive – who was humiliated and denied justice, but who brings justice and dignity.
Your voice is higher than Phillip’s, and your skin is darker. Phillip dunks you in some water, and you come up new again, rejoicing.
Gender and sex are different. Humans generally are divided between two biological “sexes,” but there are some exceptions. About 1 in 1500 humans are born intersex with ambiguous or underdeveloped genitalia. “Gender” consists of social functions and attitudes that often accompany “sex” – marriage, attraction, work, fashion, social function. The interplay between sex and gender is complex, as I think more and more people are beginning to see.
Growing up in a farming family, I was corrected if I ever flippantly referred to a bovine animal as a “cow.” See, cows are female cattle who are also mothers. It is a gendered term, incorporating both biology (female) and social function (mother). Female cattle without calves are called heifers. These categories (and many more for many other animals) could be considered “genders.”
We are wrong to impose modern ideas on to ancient cultures. There may have been six genders recognized in classical Judaism. But when I began thinking about how different “genders” might pop up in the Bible, my mind went straight to the story of the Ethiopian eunuch.
The eunuch’s gender is defined in part by his social status and function – serving the queen without fear of getting her pregnant or of having his own family loyalties interrupt service to the State. Gender is performative.
In this case, the eunuch’s gender is also affected by anatomy. He was, most likely, castrated against his will at a young age. This surgery would wreak havoc on typical hormone development – inducing higher voice, lower sex drive, less body hair, and taller height. The eunuch, both socially and physically, would develop into a distinct “third” gender. We refer to Simeon as “eunuch,” not “the Ethiopian man.”
This person, Simeon, sought after God, that much is obvious. He was going to the Jews to learn more about a God that he wanted to serve. Some scholars think that Simeon might have had a complete penectomy rather than just a castration. I’m not trying to paint an overly grotesque picture in your mind, but rather to suggest that Simeon might have been physically incapable of converting to Judaism due to his genitalia – a circumstance that was entirely out of his control. It is possible that he wanted to convert, but could not be circumcised. He would have been forced to remain on the outskirts of the religious community, unable to fully participate. He would have had to stay on the fringes of God-fearing community life.
Instead, he was baptized into Christ.
The book of Acts tells the story of the Christian Church on a journey of expansion from Jerusalem to Rome. Acts is not a biography of Paul (he disappears from the narrative without dying). It is not a biography of Peter. It is not a how-to manual or a blueprint for how churches should operate, rather it describes diverse scenarios in the early Church. Acts is about thirty years that changed the world. It is a testimony that nothing can stay in the way of the Good News – not race or gender or IQ or occupation or social status or nationality. There is great diversity in Acts, and each time a narrative presents a barrier, the Gospel overcomes it.
Acts is the story of the Church going to Rome, but the Church went a lot of other places too. Tradition holds that Jude preached to Libya – Bartholomew to India – James in Egypt – my namesake, Andrew, in Romania, Cyprus, and Georgia – and Simeon the Eunuch brought the Gospel back to Ethiopia, a country that was one of the first to adopt Christianity as the national religion. Simeon, who would have been on Judaism’s fringes due to his ethnicity and gender, was able to share his faith and start a chain of churches that persist to this day. Humanity continues to struggle with race and gender, but nothing gets in the way of the Gospel.
Just like Simeon grew up with narrower shoulders than his male peers, just like he never married, just like his voice never dropped, just like he was a sexual minority, so are there people today who do not fit into neat preconceptions of what sex and gender should be. Inability to be circumcised was an impassable barrier, but Christ crushed the obstacle. Phillip did not care what was under the Ethiopian’s tunic. He cared about his faith.
I pray that if Simeon came to my church – or my neighborhood Kroger – or to
my house – I hope he might not say, “look, here is judgment” or, “look, here I am second-class,” “look, here I am belittled,” “look, here is hatred,” “look, here is ignorance,”
I pray he would say, “look, here is water. What keeps me from being baptized?”