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Saturday, July 23, 2016
Today’s Reading | Acts 10:1–23
In Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of the Italian Cohort, as it was called. He was a devout man who feared God with all his household; he gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God. One afternoon at about three o’clock he had a vision in which he clearly saw an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius.” He stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” He answered, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. Now send men to Joppa for a certain Simon who is called Peter; he is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the seaside.” When the angel who spoke to him had left, he called two of his slaves and a devout soldier from the ranks of those who served him, and after telling them everything, he sent them to Joppa.
About noon the next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat; and while it was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air. Then he heard a voice saying, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” The voice said to him again, a second time, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven. 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.
Growing up in the church, I heard a lot of comments in Sunday school and Bible studies along the lines of “The Jews were biased toward the Gentiles” and “How could they be so rigid and prejudiced?” And while the Jewish people in the ancient world were prejudiced against the Gentiles (and vice versa!), the problem is that those kinds of remarks too easily distanced us, gave us a false sense of moral high ground, and refused to identify us, the church, with the Jewish people of Peter’s day. We failed to ask how we ourselves might be prejudiced—how we might consider some things “unclean” that are actually clean.
The Jewish people saw themselves as God’s people; we in the church today strive to be a community of God’s people. So then who are our Gentiles? Who do we see as “unclean” that “God has made clean?”
In many ways, exclusion is a natural human behavior. We create and cling to boundaries in our communities because it makes us feel safe. People and ways of life we aren’t familiar with make us uncomfortable, so we shut them out or, worse, demonize them. It was true in Peter’s day, and it’s true in ours. Amazingly, Peter—a product of his own cultural biases—was willing to walk out onto the water again and let God expand his boundaries. And we have a pretty big advantage that Peter didn’t have—Peter didn’t have a lot of radical, inclusive examples to learn from: we have two thousand years of inspiring stories and cultural evolution to draw upon. But it still takes courage to let go. The question is: are we willing to follow Peter’s lead?
God, help us to be open to changing our assumptions. Let us be open to welcoming those into your church whom we might have pushed away, ignored, or forgotten in the past. Bring them—like Cornelius—to our doorstep, and help us to have Peter’s faith and humility as we welcome them into the family of God. Amen.
Written by Jeremy Pfaff, Editorial Assistant
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