Wait! Stop! Hold the presses!
That first reading for Sunday (Acts 10: 44f.) from the Acts of the Apostles was a groundbreaking moment in God’s plan of salvation in the world. It was a pivotal moment in the early Church and it is a pivotal moment in the Bible. It was not so simple and so innocuous that the Holy Spirit fell on some people while Peter was speaking. Something far more dynamic was taking place. Something that had big implications for the future of the Church and your place in it.
Humans are discerning beings. And one of the things that they discern the most are the things that separate one from another. If you were to read the Bible from a certain point of view, it is the history of racism. That racism that plagues our modern-day history, plagued them back then also. Biblically, racism is a problem much larger than the racism of African American and Caucasian relationships that are the bane of our cities. It was expected that Samaritans and Jews had ample cause to hate one another; Joshua is given a mandate to destroy the Hittites, Amalekites, the Perizzites; the establishment of the Davidic line features ongoing warfare with the Philistines. Jews and Gentiles did not get along, especially when it was that the Gentiles were of the sort that were the conquerors.
At prayer one day, Peter was inspired to be obedient to the request of the people who were knocking at the door. Those people were representatives of a fellow named Cornelius. Cornelius was a Roman Centurion. While it was true that he was in the category of “God fearer” which was a name given to one who respected the God of the Jews and practiced their religion insofar as he was able, he was a Gentile, nonetheless. He was a person of authority. It would have been intimidating for Peter to answer the door and to find Roman soldiers knocking and insisting that he come with them. And come with them voluntarily. It is roughly analogous to the State Troopers knocking at your door and asking you to come along for a conversation. Except, of course, as a citizen of this Commonwealth and of these United States, you have far more rights and privileges than Peter did. Since Peter had been already arrested several times for proclaiming the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus, it would have taken a great deal of courage for him to go along with the soldiers at his door.
It would also have taken a great deal of moral courage for Cornelius to send for Peter. Not the kind of courage that it takes on the battlefield, but the kind of courage that opens one up to ridicule among one’s peers. The snickering and the back-biting and the gossip and mudslinging in which humans are so skilled. And no matter how grace-filled the moment when the Holy Spirit fell upon these Gentiles, the grace of God apparently created problems. How would the Gentiles be received into this new Church? How would Peter be able to justify his actions?
No, this reading that seems so wonderfully bucolic is hugely dynamic. And as it held implications and consequences for the early Church, it does so for us. How willing are we to step out of our comfort zone for the sake of the kingdom of God? How willing are we to risk actions that will break down the barriers that divide and separate us? How willing are we, in the face of the rise in modern day racism, to stand up for what is right and what is moral? How willing are we in this era when lies and half truths abound, to have the moral courage to stand up for the Truth?
These are all questions for which there are no easy answers. And, I guess, like for Peter and for Cornelius, the question is, how obedient are we to the stirrings of the Holy Spirit within us.