Ask almost any first-century Jew about the Samaritans and you would receive an answer filled with negative impressions. Samaritans were considered half breeds, not true Jews; they worshiped incorrectly and held wrong beliefs. In short, they were definitely not God’s people.
That prevailing attitude is important background to today’s reading, because it reveals Philip’s great boldness in taking the message of Jesus the Messiah to the Samaritans! In turn, the people were so impressed with Philip’s preaching and miracles that they quickly responded with faith and baptism. Even Simon the Sorcerer seemed to have believed and was baptized.
This was something new indeed! Could it be true? Peter and John traveled from Jerusalem to investigate. Finding genuine faith among the Samaritans, the Apostles prayed for these new believers and the Holy Spirit came upon them, verifying the spread of the gospel to non-Jews. Simon the Sorcerer’s initial response to the Spirit is a good reminder for us: the movement of the Spirit is not something we can manipulate. God’s kingdom will spread as He likes, as His gift to the world.
Christ’s salvation would next spread to even more non-Jews. Responding to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, Philip found himself in an encounter with an Ethiopian eunuch returning to his African home. He was reading a passage in Isaiah 53 and was confused about its meaning. Philip took the occasion to use that text as the basis for a personal message about the good news of Jesus Christ. As a result, the eunuch responded with faith and was baptized by Philip. Scripture does not tell us explicitly, but it would be fair to assume that the eunuch brought the message of Christ to others in Ethiopia. The gospel was finally spreading “from Judea to Samaria to the ends of the earth” (1:8)!