“Peter declares that Jesus was about the business of changing people’s lives. He sums up Jesus’ ministry by saying that he “went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil”. Evil diminishes life for individuals and communities. It can dominate our will and remove the freedom to live in ways that are life-sustaining. It is seen in addictions and compulsions that drive the lives of individuals and the systems of abuse from which families and societies cannot seem to break free. The Gospels tell us that Jesus overcame what was killing people in order to restore them to life.”
Acts 10:34-43 Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. 37That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 38how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 40but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 41not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. 43All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
To appreciate the importance of these verses you need to understand its context. Cornelius is a Roman spit and polish soldier currently posted to the Empire’s headquarters in Caesarea. We are told that, though not a Jew he reveres God and contributes generously to meet the needs of people in the community. Because of his faithfulness Cornelius has a vision in which he is directed to summon Simon Peter to his home. At the time Peter is in Joppa, thirty miles away rooming with a Simon the tanner.
Tanning is considered one of the world’s dirtiest occupations. It wasn’t that tanners were ritually unclean, but there was a social repugnance for tanners because of their stench and filth. It was said for a tanner to look for a wife any place other than the family of another tanner was a waste of time. Simon the tanner may have stunk to high heaven but, from Peter’s point of view he was a Jew. The picture we are given is that Peter is living and breathing the smells of the tanning operation when he goes up on the roof top, probably for a breath of fresh air.
While there, like Cornelius, Peter has a vision. He sees a sheet full of unclean animals come down from heaven. A voice commands Peter to kill and eat these animals, but he refuses since, according to Jewish law, they are ritually unclean. Then the voice said, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane”. When the messengers from Cornelius arrive, Peter realizes that the vision wasn’t at all about unclean food, it was about how Jews were prejudiced against gentiles, that is non-jews. There is an Old Testament story with which Peter would have been familiar that happened in Joppa. Remember Jonah. God called him to preach to Gentiles and he decided he’d rather run away or die.
Peter thinks better of it and goes with Cornelius’ servants and enters his house. That’s important. Cornelius is a Gentile, an official in the occupying Roman army and he is from another nation. He may revere God and give alms generously, but he is a Gentile, not a member of the people of Israel. Does he belong to the people of God as Peter does, or not? Peter says to Cornelius ‘I need not tell you that a Jew is forbidden by his religion to visit or associate with anyone of another race. Yet God has shown me clearly that I must not call anyone profane or unclean…” I don’t know if you caught the irony in the story but Peter was much more comfortable staying in the stench and filth of Simon’s home than in the luxury of a Roman officials home. It makes you wonder how we make choices.
Later in our text find Peter begins his sermon saying “God shows no partiality,” for “in every nation anyone who fears and does what is right is acceptable to him.” To say that “God shows no partiality” means that belonging is not matter of one’s ethnic background. The issue is faith and the kind of life that flows out of faith.
In his message Peter declares that Jesus was about the business of changing people’s lives. He sums up Jesus’ ministry by saying that he “went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil“. Evil diminishes life for individuals and communities. It can dominate our will and remove the freedom to live in ways that are life-sustaining. It is seen in addictions and compulsions that drive the lives of individuals and the systems of abuse from which families and societies cannot seem to break free. The Gospels tell us that Jesus overcame what was killing people in order to restore them to life. It says that Jesus healed those who had been tyrannized by others. In simply theological language, Jesus’ goal was to release people from what made them captives. The Greek word usually translated “forgiveness” literally means “release.” Living destructively brings people to a point where the pattern of destruction defines the present and limits the future. For a person to have a different life, such behavior must no longer define us. This is what forgiveness means. It means that the grace of God brings release from the continuing to live destructively so that through a word of grace there can be a different future.
Do we live according to the words of Peter’s experience. “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. Of course the question for us today is whether we embrace such grace for ourselves or others.