A Series on Peter
We started this series with a vision of animals that Peter didn't quite understand. When the vision ends, Peter has a succession of rather uncomfortable situations. He first extends hospitality to Gentiles, and then starts traveling with them! Now in Acts 10:27, we find Peter standing in the middle of a room filled with Gentiles making clear how uncomfortable and unusual this experience is for him, "You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile (Acts 10:28)." And yet, Peter recognizes that God has already revealed a portion of the vision to him, "But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean (Acts 10:28)."
So Peter is beginning to get it! But this sounds a lot like tempered tolerance, doesn't it? In the same sentence as declaring how wrong it is for him to hang out with these people, he is also stating that he shouldn't call them unclean or impure! It is tolerance from a distance, right? I promise not to call you unclean, but please don't challenge my practice of treating you like the unclean...
But Cornelius is not dismayed. He pushes forward by explaining that he was told to find Peter, and that all his family and friends are eagerly awaiting what God will say through Peter. Something about Cornelius's words strikes a cord within Peter. The first words out of Peters mouth are, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right." Perhaps it's Cornelius's obedience that moves Peter. Or perhaps it's their courage to bring the Jews into their home. Or it could be that Peter recognizes the visitation that Cornelius describes. Whatever it is Peter is responding to, in this moment he moves beyond tolerance as he proclaims a paradigm shift, "God has no favorites."
Suddenly all the dots connect. This is deeper than not calling the Gentiles unclean, this is about not believing the Gentiles are unclean. This is a revelation that Peter's cultural preferences suggest that God only loves one nation, when in fact God "accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right."
This is a common attribute of enthocentrism (I describe my own journey with being ethnocentric here), and truth be told, we all have to be careful not to equate our cultural preferences with God's cultural preferences! For surely He delights in the diversity with which we worship Him. While there is great value in analyzing our interpersonal ways of relating to one another, we can also use Peter's revelation to examine our church communities. If you were to look at the cultural practices of your church, would it suggest that God has favorites? Is there anyone who is being left out? Anyone considered unclean? Particularly the "nations" that are already in your congregation- gender, age, certain races, ethnicities or languages... Is there a population of people that God has invited you to fellowship with who is treated like the unclean or impure?
Wouldn't it be amazing if our churches galvanized around the revelation that God indeed has no favorites! Imagine the creativity of our music and worship, the depth of our sermons, the voices we would value and all we would learn if only we moved beyond "gracing others with our presence" and instead truly believed that God accepts from every nation. What if we had the courage to challenge our own cultural preferences in order to express the depth and width of God's love for all?