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Lent, day 38 – The Lord has chosen you to be their neighbour.

Today’s reflection comes to us from Margaret McVeigh

Acts 10: 34-43
34 Then Peter began to speak: ‘I now realise how true it is that God does not show favouritism 35 but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. 36 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached – 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.39 ‘We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen – by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.’

God has no favourites.

The gloom and heartache of the crucifixion, the excitement and euphoria of the resurrection, the glory of the ascension were all now in the past. The hard work of obeying Christ’s command to go into all the world and preach the gospel was becoming a reality – and there were new lessons to be learnt.

Now, let’s be very honest with ourselves for a moment. You live in a very pleasant part of the city which for years has been very much professional people who all knew each other fairly well both in the community at large and in the local churches. It was a comfortable life with little to challenge or question. Then the house next door becomes vacant and it is bought by someone from a very different ethnic background – how do you feel? What is your first gut reaction?

There may be in your heart some disappointment, maybe even some irritation or even some dismay – certainly not a particularly welcoming attitude to this new neighbour.

This was the issue that cropped up for Peter here in the early days of the church and this chapter in Acts explains something of the tensions between Jews Gentiles and how the Lord dealt with this new learning for Peter. God prepared him to meet with Cornelius, a Roman Centurion who had aligned himself with the Jewish religion and was generous in his support of the local synagogue in Caesarea. He was very prayerful in his approach and wanted to know more. An angel visited him and told him to go find Peter in Joppa – he immediately sent some of his trusted servants to Joppa.

In the mean-time God was preparing Peter for this meeting. In the normal course of events and in accordance with the law Peter would not have entered the house of a Gentile. However, as the servants of Cornelius were journeying to Joppa Peter was up on the roof relaxing, and he had a vision sent from God. It was a white sheet lowered from heaven with all sort of animals on it. He was told to ‘Arise and eat’. Peter was startled and taken aback – ‘Surely not’ he said, ‘I’ve never eaten anything impure or unclean in my life.’ The voice spoke to him and told him not to declare anything that God had made unclean. Peter was not immediately convinced and in fact the vision had to be repeated three times to
make sure that Peter had got the message before he met with the visitors sent from Cornelius. The Holy Spirit told Peter to go with them as they had been sent by God himself.

The next day he went with his guests to meet Cornelius in Caesarea. This is the background to Acts 10: 34-43. Up to this point any devout Jew, like Peter, would not have stepped inside the house of a Gentile nor would they have eaten with them or had them as overnight guests.

Something quite revolutionary was happening here and it was going to be extremely important for the ongoing growth of the church.
When they reached Caesarea, Cornelius welcomed Peter, and asked him to speak to all his assembled family and friends. Peter began by admitting that he was just learning that God had no favourites but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right – he was being very honest. He went on to give the fullest summary of the Apostolic message in the book of Acts.

Peter was recognising that God’s grace extends to Gentiles as freely as to Jews – this was revolutionary. That’s why it was so important that Peter should take the lead in this new understanding of the relationship between Jews and Gentiles in the early church. The lesson here is that God shows no partiality – he has no favourites.
The reason this was so important for the early church was this – if the early Christians had not accepted that everyone was equal in the church – it would have remained a small sect of Judaism and would not have spread across the whole of the then known world as Jesus had clearly intended. Learning this lesson opened the gateway to the amazing growth of the church among both Jews and Gentiles in the early centuries of its existence.

Now, go back to where we started – instead of being dismayed by this new neighbour from a very different background, rejoice that the Lord has chosen you to be their neighbour and you have the opportunity, as they observe your Christian witness, to add daily to the church those who are being saved. Your welcome and your kindness could be the very thing that draws them in to Jesus.

Margaret McVeigh

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