Peter fairly exploded with his good news: "It’s God’s own truth, nothing could be plainer: God plays no favorites! It makes no difference who you are or where you’re from—if you want God and are ready to do as he says, the door is open. Acts 10:34-35 (TM)
In the days following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the United States was in collective shock and mourning. I recall walking into a convenience store for coffee a day or two after the tragic events. There was a long line at the counter. Before me, a middle aged executive in a $700 suit and silk power tie stood behind a goth skater boy with a thin, bright pink streak in his jet black hair and multiple rings piercing his pale face. I listened as the two engaged in conversation about the attacks on the twin towers. They spoke of the horror of what they had witnessed and their shared grief.
I stood amazed as I witnessed this conversation. There were two people who, it would appear, had absolutely nothing in common. A few days before they would have stood silently in line and regarded each other with prejudiced opinions. They were brought together in a rather intimate conversation about their feelings in the aftermath of a common event.
Acts 10 shares a similar story. Jews hated the Romans. Romans hated the Jews. Jews didn’t eat certain foods. Romans ate food that had been sacrificed to their pagan idols. When they weren’t killing each other, they regarded each other in silent, prejudiced opinions. Then came an event which would bring the two together. The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus tore down the wall between Jews and non-Jews. Simon Peter and Cornelius could sit in the same house, eat a meal of the same foods, and worship God together.
Our 20th century minds generally fail to grasp the cataclysmic nature of Peter’s visit to Cornelius. It was as strange a paradigm shift in that day to as it was for me to see a Wall Street Executive and goth skater boy sharing a friendly, intimate conversation. You can’t fully understand the New Testament writings until you grasp how the prejudice and hatred between first century Jews and non-Jews (Gentiles) permeated the fabric of their daily lives and world-views.
The story of Peter and Cornelius causes me to consider those groups in society from whom I would like to distance myself. Who makes me uncomortable? Whose house would I rather not visit? With which person would I prefer not share a meal? The answer to those questions are a compass that point me towards the people I am called to love and point me toward the walls of my own prejudice which Jesus sacrificed Himself to tear down.