Do I belong here?
Am I "in" or "out"?
If you're like me, you have asked yourself such questions before. And, as we turn now to Acts chapter 10, it is appropriate for us to consider a somewhat similar question that Will Willimon asks in his commentary:
"How did the church arrive at a turning point where insiders were willing to include outsiders?" (Interpretation, p. 95)
As Peter discovered in the drama that is Cornelius's story, this is a challenging question.
For the Jewish people, there was never any question as to whether or not God would save Israel. It was always a matter of faith. They prayed without ceasing for salvation, never wondering if salvation would come but how and when. Throughout Acts, the task set before Peter and the apostles was their tireless proclamation of the gospel in the streets and the synagogues, so that the Jewish people would know that Jesus was their long-awaited Messiah, that through His saving work Israel (God's chosen people...a.k.a - the "insiders") had already been redeemed.
When we look closely at the first nine chapters of Acts, the spread of this gospel message was nothing short of spectacular:
- Thousands at a time being converted in Jerusalem.
- Conversions as far as Samaria and Ethiopia.
- The conversion of Saul (zealous persecutor of the followers of The Way) to Paul (God's chosen agent).
In chapter 10, the message spreads further still...to the gentiles. The story of Peter and Cornelius is, in a word, amazing. It was "unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile" (v. 28) but that is precisely what God used for Peter to "truly understand that God shows no partiality" (v. 34). Will Willimon captures well the meaning of their exchange :
"Through the dialogue of Peter and Cornelius Luke creates a scene in which old divisions are broken down and these who once were at odds - Jew and gentile - chat amiably within the home that had been off limits to Peter. Placed here, and treated in this fashion, the scene serves a warm, touching hint of the joyous new possibilities for community toward which God is leading both Jew and gentile. As with Jesus, who was criticized for the company he kept at the table, so Peter could claim that 'there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance' (Luke 15:7)." (Interpretation, p. 97)
The world in which we live is filled with old divisions that need to be broken down, like those we have seen in Ferguson, in Iraq, and in Israel to name only a few.
Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on our communities and our world. Amen.