B Cycle – 6th Sunday of Easter 21
The story of Peter visiting Cornelius is easily overlooked unless you have read the passages proceeding this encounter. Peter as a Jew would never enter the house of a gentile like Cornelius because he was unclean. So why was he there? How did he overcome his own conscious which would have been actively at work within him, making him inwardly wanting to flee? It is a story of how we judge our “right standing with God’ by the laws of God and the Church. Keep in mind we are being related a story that took place after the resurrection, after Pentecost and Peter’s newfound faith and access to the power of God.
That is where this story begins, with that newfound insights into the things that are important to God not us. Peter has been reborn by the Spirit and has begun to understand the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ. Peter has already cured a man crippled from birth; he has drawn the wrath of the Sanhedrin because he is proclaiming Jesus as the messiah. Many miracles have been worked by the apostles so great were these that even when Peter’s shadow fell on anyone sick, they were cured. Peter even raised a dead woman to life; his faith was that strong and his belief in Jesus moved him. Yet he still followed the dictates of his faith, especially the dietary laws.
Cornelius was a centurion, and was devout, generous to the Jewish people and the scriptures tell us he feared God. He sends a servant to invite Peter to his home because God is answering a prayer of Cornelius. Interesting isn’t it, God answers prayers of someone we would consider unworthy of God’s blessing. That fact alone should make us rethink what makes a person worthy in God’s eyes is not a standard we believe in so firmly.
Before that servant arrives in Joppa where Peter is staying, Peter is on the roof of a house praying and goes into a trance. Remember in the prophecy of Joel, God tells us that he would send us his Spirit and we would among other things have visions. Well, Peter in this trance like state sees a vision of a “sheet” being lowered with all sorts of four footed animals, clawing creatures and birds all of which are unclean by Jewish law and Peter is told to eat. Peter repulsed by the sight of these things he is forbidden to eat says no because he would never eat anything unclean. This vision happens to him three times and after the last vision he hears a voice telling him “what God has cleansed, do not call unholy” (Acts 10:15). Then he was told about the visitors coming and he was to go with them to the house of Cornelius.
Peter is being taught something by his vision and by the events that happened in the home of Cornelius. So today being taught by that very same event which happened thousands of years ago. That one lesson is the message of salvation for it is God who makes us holy, and we have been cleansed us by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We can never be holy by adhering strictly to laws and patterns of worship rigidly held to and practiced. We cannot stop learning that lesson over and over, day after day. We must remember and celebrate our own being made clean by the blood of the Lamb of God and listen to God during our time of prayer. But there is another lesson to learn and that is how we judge others who do not follow or practice what we believe. Cornelius was a devout man, but he was not a Jew and was considered by all others “outside” the grace of God.
God would not give him what he gave Peter and yet it happens as Peter is proclaiming Jesus Christ as the Messiah. What happened is the entire household of Cornelius has the Spirit poured upon them, just as the 120 in that upper room had it poured upon them.
Perhaps we need to listen to the promptings of God rather than to our own internal self which tells us how good we are because we do not stray from the things by which we measure faith. God’s measure is how well do we listen to his law which he desires to write on our hearts. Isn’t that the message of today’s gospel, “I call you friends if you follow what I command you?” A slave does not know what his master is about because a slave only follows orders, does what the duties require and never asks for anything. Remember that is exactly what the prodigal wanted to be in his father’s house, but the father does not want slaves he wants sons and daughters.
There is a difference between following God our of strict obedience to what we believe are the desires of the Father and following God out of love. One wants detailed instructions on what is necessary to carry out the wishes of the father. The other is moved by something unmeasured by any rule of formula. They understand they must go out and bear fruit. To be like Jesus and focus on others so they too can know the cleansing power of the Father’s love.
It is a simple measuring stick; do we dare go where it is uncomfortable for us because following the will of the Father is by going forth and following the promptings of the Spirit no matter what our “religious formation” tells us is proper before God. David danced naked before the Lord; do we dare do something similar by defying the rules of decorum by righteous Pharisees who only measure holiness by their own ability to adhere to the law. Jesus gave us a new law that is hard to measure, love as I have loved.