What I’m Thinking: Unexpected Inclusion

Simon Peter and the leaders of the young Church found themselves with a challenge: God had summoned people they didn’t expect to become part of the community of Jesus’ followers. What would they do?

Here’s a transcript:

I’m thinking about the eleventh chapter of Acts of the Apostles (Acts 11:1-18). Simon Peter had come back to Jerusalem from Caesarea, where he had visited with and eaten with and baptized the household of a Roman centurion, a man by the name of Cornelius.

Now Cornelius, we learn from earlier in the book, had been a devout man. He had not, however, taken the step of fully converting to the Jewish faith. He was still a Gentile. Even an observant Gentile was off limits in some critical ways to first century Jews. They could not eat in a Gentile home. They could go through ritual cleansing later, but that was a difficult and time-consuming and possibly even expensive undertaking. So Jews avoided it if they could.

But when Simon Peter had made his visit, the Holy Spirit had come to Cornelius and all the Gentiles there. Confronted by this evidence of God’s favor, Peter had said, “How can we deny the water for baptism?”

Well, there in Jerusalem there were people who were of the opinion that the water of baptism should have been denied. And so Peter told his story. This is, in fact, the third time that Luke recounts this story in the book of Acts. For Luke, this was one of the critical moments in the formation of the Christian Church. This was one of the moments that defined what the Church would become. This was a moment in which, for Luke, the Church found its expansive nature, its extravagant welcome, its willingness to include those who had not been included before.

It’s that simple – but it’s also not that simple. Cornelius was an outsider to Jews, yes, but he was also part of the oppressive nature of the Roman Empire. Christianity would go on to try to reform the Roman Empire, and I’m afraid that as I look at history that effort was a failure. Empire reshaped Christianity almost as much – well, more, actually – than Christianity reshaped Empire.

This is a challenging moment for the Church and for Christians. What do we do with the oppressors? What do we do when God says that these people who we thought were beyond are also to be welcomed and included?

What can we do when the Holy Spirit intervenes but to say: “God has opened us all up to one another. Let us find a new way of living and being together, one that is better than the old. Let us not adopt the ways of coercion and oppression, but let us also not let ourselves be caught in the sorrows and the trials of the past. In this present intervention of the Holy Spirit, let us find the roots of a new future.”

That’s what I’m thinking. I’m curious to hear what you’re thinking. Leave me your thoughts in the comment section below; I’d love to hear from you.

Categories What I'm Thinking | Tags: | Posted on May 9, 2022

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