By The Revd Robert Jordan MA
It's always fun when God decides to do things in a totally different way from what has been done in the past. Usually it makes quite a few people quite nervous, and the results can be surprising. The reading today is a critical reading in this aspect, a total "turning point" in the life of the early community, and one with which we continue to struggle. Basically because we always struggle with things being done differently.
This section read today is part of a much longer narrative that begins with chapter 10, verse 1. And the character in this part of the book of Acts is Peter, not Paul. There are two clear moments in the reading today: 1) what was done and 2) what God decides to do.
Peter has received the instruction to go to Cornelius' house, whom we are told is an officer of the Roman Imperial army, the occupying force of the time, and no matter how God-fearing he may be, the true Jews should have no contact with Gentiles. And God wants Peter to turn his back to all this and go to the house of this Cornelius. Peter is against this: "Surely not, I have never eaten anything impure or unclean". To which God is categorical: "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean". And off Peter goes.
And the reading today is what happens when the elders and brothers throughout Judea hear that a Gentile has received the word of God...and call Peter to Jerusalem. Peter is in deep trouble! Will he be reprimanded for what he has done? Because he has broken a long standing tradition, which was accepted and kept the Jewish people in good standing with God. To undermine that was a very big problem. Would the leaders in Jerusalem be able to see beyond?
And here comes the surprise...the Holy Spirit comes on all the household... this is outside Peter's hands, isn't it? Is Peter telling them that God has gone against his own instructions? What has God done? Well the summary of all this is found in the last verse: "So God has granted even to the Gentiles repentance unto life"....
Does that mean to say that the ones who were clearly excluded, now are to be welcomed? Well...yes, that is exactly what has gone on. God has broken down the diving walls and things begin to change from there one. The Peter of this opening up to a new real reality will later be told off by Peter for turning his back on the new reality (Galatians 2), which shows us how easy it is to drop back to the old ways.
We need to bear this in mind, it is God who opens up the doors, who welcomes all, even the ones who before weren't welcome. And this reminds us that God does surprising things, and that it is still important to be open to the different things God is showing us, and this is connected to the other reading for this Sunday: John chapter 13; verses 31-35 "a new commandment I give you today -says Jesus, to love one another as I have loved you" ... What will that be for us, in the current situation? What things which were good in the past, no longer serve the values of the Kingdom? Are we ready for the different things God is showing us? Who should we love? This is what living in faith is all about, isn't it?