Friday, June 19, 2009

Prejudice

This morning I have spent a little bit of time reading from Acts. I generally try not to write on something I just read because I like to think about it and internalize it and see how it applies. But, I'm going to ignore that rule today.

Acts is a transition book in the New Testament. It talks about the period between the death of Jesus and the time when there are established churches. It shares the accounts of the brave disciples that spread the good news of Jesus throughout the lands.

One of those accounts is about how God led Peter to an understanding that God's plan was for everyone, Jew or Gentile. Peter is in Joppa where he is staying with a tanner spreading the Word. In the middle of the day he goes up to the roof to pray and gets hungry. The he sees heaven open and "something like a large sheet" being let down that contains all sorts of "four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air." Acts 10:10-12 (NIV) When a voice tells him to get up, kill and eat, Peter protests saying "I have never eaten anything impure or unclean." Acts 10:14 (NIV) Then the voice speaks to him a second time and says "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean." Acts 10:15 (NIV).

This happens three times. While Peter is still sitting on the roof, trying to figure out what it means, some people arrive at the house asking for him. The Lord tells Peter that men are there looking for him and that he should net hesitate to go with them. Peter then goes down and introduces himself to the men and asks why they have come.

It is then that Peter learns for the first time that they have been sent by "Cornelius the centurion" who they describe as "a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people." Acts 10:22 (NIV). They explain what we have already been told earlier in Acts, that an angel appeared to Cornelius and told him to send for Peter.

Again, Cornelius was centurion. Not only was he not a Jew, he was an officer in the Roman army. The brutal, occupying force that most Jews resented and despised. To put it bluntly, no good Jew would have anything to do with Cornelius. We are told that Cornelius gave money to the poor and genuinely sought God, but he was still a Roman soldier. Jews could not even enter the house of a Roman.

Nonetheless, Peter listened (again, that listening point unintentionally comes up in a post, maybe I should listen?) and goes with the men to Caesarea. Cornelius, having been told by an angel to send for Peter, knows something big is going to happen. So, he has a house full of guests. The Scripture tells us that Cornelius had called together his relatives and close friends, and that it was a large gathering of people.

I can only begin to imagine the things going though Peter's mind as he walks into the house. I imagine him praying and kind of wondering "what have you gotten me into, God?" But, he walks in and says "You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean." Acts 10:28 (NIV) Then he asks why Cornelius sent for him. Cornelius again explains about the visit from the "man in shining clothes." When Peter next speaks, he says:

"I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right." Acts 10:34-35 (NIV)

As Peter goes on talking and sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit comes on all who heard him speaking. The Jews that had accompanied Peter are amazed that the Holy Spirit has been poured out on Gentiles. Peter says "Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have." Then he orders that they be baptized. Acts 10:47 (NIV)

I think it is fair to say that we all carry around some personal prejudices. Some are more overt than others, but I think at some level everyone puts people into groups and makes judgments based on those groups. In some ways, this follows on my last post here - we all too often see with man's eyes, rather than God's eyes. Peter was no different. Tradition and education and church had taught him to separate things between clean and unclean, pure and impure. It made no difference if it was food or things or people. But God broke through that. God made clear that Peter should not be deciding that something was unclean - God had made it clean. How different is that from any of us? We can look around at all the sin (including our own sin) and declare people unclean. Or, we can recognize, as Jesus did while choosing to spend time with the likes of tax collectors and prostitutes, that God cleans us all. That Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the world - not just mine and yours, or those of people like us, but everyone's.

"God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right." Acts 10:34-35 (NIV) God told Cornelius, the Gentile, the Roman centurion, to call for Peter. God told Peter to go and to put aside what he had spent so much time believing (that he should not even enter the house of a Gentile). God poured out the Holy Spirit on everyone in attendance.

Shouldn't we do the same? Shouldn't we find the bravery - or more appropriately the faith - to put aside our prejudices? Shouldn't we recognize that we were all unclean until we were washed in the blood of Jesus? Shouldn't we welcome the opportunity to share the Good News with everyone, regardless of where they grew up or what they have done or where they live or who their parents were?

Just something to think about. Enjoy the weekend everybody.

Happy Father's Day to all the Dads.

1 comment:

Heidi said...

This is always a tough thing to think about, because prejudice is such a sneaky thing. Once you tackle one, you find another.

I wonder why God made people to generally look more for our differences than at what we have in common?

Hope you had a great Father's Day!