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Wednesday, September 4, 2013
Today’s Reading | Acts 10:17–33
Now while Peter was greatly puzzled about what to make of the vision that he had seen, suddenly the men sent by Cornelius appeared. They were asking for Simon’s house and were standing by the gate. They called out to ask whether Simon, who was called Peter, was staying there. While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Look, three men are searching for you. Now get up, go down, and go with them without hesitation; for I have sent them.” So Peter went down to the men and said, “I am the one you are looking for; what is the reason for your coming?” They answered, “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say.” So Peter invited them in and gave them lodging.
The next day he got up and went with them, and some of the believers from Joppa accompanied him. The following day they came to Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. On Peter’s arrival Cornelius met him, and falling at his feet, worshiped him. But Peter made him get up, saying, “Stand up; I am only a mortal.” And as he talked with him, he went in and found that many had assembled; and he said to them, “You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without objection. Now may I ask why you sent for me?”
Cornelius replied, “Four days ago at this very hour, at three o’clock, I was praying in my house when suddenly a man in dazzling clothes stood before me. He said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. Send therefore to Joppa and ask for Simon, who is called Peter; he is staying in the home of Simon, a tanner, by the sea.’ Therefore I sent for you immediately, and you have been kind enough to come. So now all of us are here in the presence of God to listen to all that the Lord has commanded you to say.” (NRSV)
The radical nature of the early church as it is described in the Acts of the Apostles is one of the hidden gems of the Bible. From mystical experiences like the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost to the commitment of the early believers to communal living and sharing of possessions, there is a radical break with the cultural norms and mores of the wider society.
This shift is seen powerfully in the exchange between Peter and Cornelius, the Roman centurion who is described as “a devout man who feared God.” Cornelius is, of course, a Gentile (non-Jew), and the encounter here explodes the ancient barriers separating Jew from Gentile. Peter readily admits that in coming to meet Cornelius he is doing something that is “unlawful,” but in the new post-resurrection world, such barriers have no place for Peter as he seeks to spread the good news of the risen Christ.
Peter’s claim is that “God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.” What a good word for our world in which different religions too often clash employing rhetoric of judgment and exclusion. Pray God that we would follow in Peter’s footsteps in our encounters with people of other faiths.
Lead me, O God, in a way of patience and understanding, that I would reflect your love for all of your children. Amen.
Written by Calum I. MacLeod, Executive Associate Pastor and Head of Staff
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