Scripture: Acts 11:17-18
“So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?” When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.”
Reflection: Going Where the Gospel Goes
By Jon Polk
News of the Gentile converts was a big deal in Jerusalem. When Peter arrived in the city, he had some explaining to do.
“You went into the house of a Gentile?” “You actually shared a meal with his family?” “Peter, you of all people. What were you thinking?”
To participate in the church community, Gentiles needed to be purified by observing the Torah—specifically circumcision—so discovering that Peter had welcomed uncircumcised Gentiles into fellowship was a cause of consternation among the believers in Jerusalem.
Lest we underestimate the radical importance of this event, Luke, the author of Acts, records the account of Cornelius the Gentile’s conversion three times: the original event in chapter 10, Peter’s recollection here in chapter 11 and Peter’s argument before the Jerusalem council in chapter 15. Peter’s first-hand experience with Cornelius and the other Gentiles in Caesarea changed the attitudes of the early Jewish followers of Jesus and opened the door of fellowship for the Gentiles.
It was Peter’s story that was convincing. Not theological arguments. Not propositional statements. Not disconnected rationalizations. Real stories of real people and their real experience with God made the difference. Peter’s own attitude about Gentiles was changed and likewise, when the believers in Jerusalem heard his story, they also dropped their objections.
In Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain wrote, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
We could apply the same principle from travel to any experiences with peoples or cultures outside of our own. It is easy to pass judgment from afar, but sharing a conversation or a meal allows us to see first-hand that the same Spirit of God that we hold dear also works in the lives of others very different from us.
Our modern lives are becoming increasingly segregated by our social-media echo-chambers, our holy huddles of the like-minded, and a prevailing negativity towards anything—or anyone—outside of our safe preconceived notions and beliefs. If we allow ourselves to step outside of our familiar circles, we might find that we understand Peter’s assessment of God’s acceptance of the Gentile converts, “Who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?”
The Call to Prayer
Sing to the Lord and bless his Name; proclaim the good news of his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the nations and his wonders among all peoples.
For great is the Lord and greatly to be praised; he is more to be feared than all gods. — Psalm 96.2-4
– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.