Monday, May 4, 2009

God Has Granted Salvation To The Gentiles

The apostles and other believers throughout Judea heard that Gentiles had also received the word of God. When Peter returned to Jerusalem, the Jewish believers criticized him, saying, “You went to the house of uncircumcised men and shared food with them”.

Peter explained everything to them just as it had happened:

While I was at prayer in Joppa, I had a vision. I saw what looked like a large sheet being let down from heaven by its four corners, and coming to where I was. In the sheet there were cattle, wild beasts, reptiles and birds. Then I heard a voice say, “Get up Peter. Kill and eat.”

I answered, “I can’t do that, Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.”

The voice from heaven spoke again, “Do not call impure anything that God has made clean.” This happened three times, and then it was all drawn up to heaven again.

Just then, the three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea stopped at the house where I was staying. The Spirit told me not to hesitate about going with them. We entered the man’s house. He told us that he had seen an angel, who said, “Send to Joppa for Simon who is also called Peter. He will bring you a message through which you and your household can be saved.”

As I started to speak, the Holy Spirit came upon them, as he had come upon us at the beginning. Then I remembered what the Lord had said, “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” So, if God was giving them the same gift he had given us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could contradict God?”

When they heard this, they had no further objections. They praised God, saying, “So then, God has granted also to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”

(Acts 11: 1-18)

By the time the Book of Acts was written, the unification of Jews and Gentiles in the early Church was well on its way to becoming an accomplished fact. But, as we see in this passage from Acts, it was not so from the beginning. The first disciples of Christ were Jews, of course. They insisted “You can come into our community, but first, you have to become Jewish, and obey the Law of Moses.” Now, obeying the Law of Moses is one thing, since it is God’s Law. But the ritual by which a male member of the human race becomes a Jew is a lot easier for a newborn baby than for a grown man. Yet, in spite of their sincerity and their eagerness to obey God’s law, they were wrong. It was not God’s intention to require Gentile converts to obey all of the Jewish rules.

We who live twenty-one centuries later are likely to think, “That’s interesting, but it’s ancient history.” Some of us might be grateful that we, of ethnicities other than Judaic (Gentiles, that is) are not bound to become Jews before we become Christians. But that’s not really the point. The inspired word of God in Scripture is not merely concerned with history, not just about how things came to be the way they are. We don’t need to be familiar with history in order to be saved, but we do need to learn to recognize -- and to accept – God’s will. And God’s will is made clear to us just as it was made clear to Peter by that vision of the sheet laden with all sorts of treff (non kosher food). The message to him was about foodstuffs; the message to us is about inclusiveness.

Inclusiveness is as much a part of today’s agenda as it was for the Jewish Christians two millennia ago. We are faced with issues such as : male/female, lay/cleric, black/white, Protestant/Catholic, gay/straight. We say, “There’s room for everyone in our Church.” But then we add the codicil: “First, you have to agree to obey our rules.”

Don’t worry! I’m not about to say that same-sex marriage is acceptable. But that issue is as pertinent to today’s dialogue among us as was keeping kosher to the people in Joppa and Caesarea two millennia ago. And it is equally pertinent to remember that the disciples of Jesus in the first century of the current era (which used to be known as AD (the year of the Lord), lived in a society much like our own. If Annas and Caiphas are on one side of that pharmacy scale, then Nero and Caligula are on the other. The truth is not to be found at either extreme of the pendulum swing.

Holy Spirit of God, help us to find the juste milieu, and until it is found, remind us that Foucault’s Pendulum at the Smithsonian is not moving to knock over the markers from one hour to the next; it is the Earth that is moving. Do you feel the Earth move? Do you feel the Spirit move?

No comments: