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Sunday, July 24, 2016

Today’s Reading | Acts 10:24–33

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 continuing story of Peter and Cornelius seems like a series of cases of mistaken identity. Today’s edition shows how much both of these men have misestimated one another and how God clarifies much through their encounter.

When we think of having a set of presuppositions about someone we don’t know well, we usually assume it means we’ve underestimated them or counted them out based on appearance, social status, etc. But the opposite can also be true and can be just as insidious: we may put someone on an undeserved and unrealistic pedestal based on those things, as well. Just because someone comes highly recommended, or holds an important spiritual or societal position, or comes from a certain background, or any number of other factors does not necessarily mean that we should “worship” the image we may have of them. Even the best human is still a human.

Because Cornelius first learned of Peter through a divine messenger, he treats Peter as divine when he arrives, with Cornelius falling on his face in worship. To have an unknown-to-him but recognizable man appear after such a vision—and presumably after months and perhaps years of prayer—must have made Peter seem larger than life. Thankfully Peter stops him immediately and with blunt honesty. “Look, please don’t think I’m greater than I am,” he might have said. “Before God appeared to me the same as to you, I would have passed right by you. I was prejudiced and xenophobic. God’s grace covers us both.” Peter’s honesty cuts to the heart of the matter: it’s only through divine grace that either of these flawed men—or any of us—can strive for better. Or truly hear what God offers.

Divine God, help us to more clearly see our humanity, for better or for worse. May we see your image in every person we meet, as well as see them for who they are. Thank you for seeing and loving us, even with our flaws. Amen.

Written by Sarah Van der Ploeg, Member of the Morning Choir

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