Have you ever associated or chosen not to associate with a person or a people group or a place because of a perceived reputation? Have you ever sought out and bought something based upon brand? Have you ever stereotyped someone or experienced what it is like to be stereotyped? The answer is yes, given our preconceived notions of safety and/or survival, based upon our heritage or lineage. Prejudice runs deep, systemic, and must be acknowledged and brought to light amidst our best intentions. In this well-known passage of Peter and Cornelius, God changes and shifts the paradigm for Peter, ushering in healing of deeply divided people and people groups, not by their own power, but through the true power of the Gospel.
The interaction between Peter and Cornelius is a succinct summation of the Gospel. Peter, one whom Jesus chose, from a people group whom God has chosen, confesses that God shows no partiality! Cornelius, a Roman centurion, seeking truth beyond what his heritage had taught him, found himself drawn to Israel’s God. Which perspective is more preposterous: A common man risking all of heritage and tradition to welcome in the outsider for the sake of the Gospel, or the outsider forsaking tangible power and governance to serve a true savior? Both have much to give up for the sake of the Gospel, a Jew associating with a Gentile, and the possible submission of a Roman soldier to the Jewish Messiah What we know is that the Gospel of Peace transcends stereotypes and can heal deep wounds and divisions and reveal truth.
Beyond stereotypes, beyond deeply seeded religious segregation, Peter obeys his command, sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ. In a gesture of faith, a movement of complete trust, a posture of submission, Peter tells the story of Jesus, a story in which he knew very well. However, in this circumstance, he is telling it with a new lens. He is beginning to see the vastness of God’s economy, through telling and reliving the story in an odd place with some unlikely people; Peter begins to understand the true mission of God. To be a messenger for God is to not make people like Jews, but to reveal the character of God, so that one may be transformed into the likeness of Christ. This is a poignant reminder for us today, as we seek to share the good news and reveal God’s character through our own being and actions, we are not seeking others to be like us and think like us, but to truly see Christ through us. This is the paradox of Christ’s revelation, fully God and fully man, and knowing that we invite that power into ourselves by God’s grace.
As we read this story from a 21st century perspective, it would be easy to simply acknowledge that Peter is doing what he should have been doing all along. He was with Jesus and should have a better grasp on the heart of God for people than anyone. Yet, it was a major conversion experience. It was experienced in prayer and meditation, and it had to be acted upon with urgency. In the words of N.T. Wright, “God is not simply accepting us as we are. He invites us as we are; but responding to that invitation always involves the complete transformation which is acted out in repentance, forgiveness, baptism, and receiving the spirit.” For Peter and Cornelius, they had to respond because they acknowledged that the Lord was the one showing them vision and revelation. In the presence of the One Holy God, one cannot leave the encounter unchanged. As God is always moving, we are called into that movement, into His dance. Our posture does/will reveal our faith or lack thereof.
For those of us who have found our places in our various churches, denominations, neighborhoods, are we still truly following the Messiah? Are we listening for the voice of God? Are we opening our eyes to see God already at work? Do we, will we have the courage to act upon that calling with urgency? What happens when our traditions are challenged or when our heritage is challenged and we are possibly invited into change? Do we know God’s voice, can we listen to his commands, and can we possibly discern the power of the Gospel and follow God into that story? “If Jesus is Lord, then the church has the adventurous task of penetrating new areas of his Lordship, expecting surprises and new implications of the gospel which cannot be explained on any basis other than our Lord has shown us something we could not have seen on our own, even if we were only looking at scripture.”  May we walk by faith with boldness, moving with grace beyond division and preconceived notions of the other, and truly find the face of God in the presence of the other, as witnesses of the in-breaking kingdom.  Wright, N.T. Acts for Everyone: Chapters 1-12. Pg. 164  Willimon, William. Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. Pg. 98-99