Devout Jewish Christians find it hard to believe that God accepts people into the Christian fold without the Jewish requirements for admission—baptism for all and circumcision for males. One of Jesus’ most dedicated followers, Simon Peter, is among the skeptical. It takes a dramatic dream to change his mind.
When an angel tells the Roman centurion Cornelius in a vision to go to Simon Peter (see Acts 10:1-8), Peter undoubtedly still has reservations about the wideness of God’s mercy. But his dream of a sheet let down from heaven filled with all sorts of ritually forbidden foods he is told to eat (10:9-16) settles the matter. When Peter finally meets with Cornelius, Peter makes the speech of his life: He boldly asserts that God, the God he has come to know in and through Jesus Christ, “shows no partiality.” Quite the contrary, as Isaiah declares long before, God reaches out to embrace all people and all nations. What does God require? Not observance of certain food laws or customs such as circumcision of males but that “in every nation anyone who fears [God] and does what is right is acceptable to [God].”
The kind of fear Peter talks about is not groveling in terror, but showing reverence. We display such reverence not when we recite a creed of some kind but when we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. (See Micah 6:8.) Like Peter, we need to ask in our day whether those who fear and do what is right include people of other faiths—Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Taoists, Confucians—and perhaps even people who may list themselves as “nones.” How wide is God’s mercy? Is it like the wideness of the sea?
O God, liberate us from conceptions and ideas that make you smaller than you are, and open our minds to praise you for mercy wide enough to include all people as your children. Amen.
Read Isaiah 42:1-9. What does it mean for Jesus to be a Servant Messiah? In what ways does God suffer with or for you?
Read Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14. As children of God, we are called to reflect God’s righteousness. How do you defend the poor and deliver the needy?
Read Acts 10:34-43. Consider the author’s proposal that those who fear God and do what is right may include people of other faiths. What would this mean for your faith and your relationships with those of other faiths?
Read Matthew 3:13-17. Remember your baptism. Did you make the decision to be baptized or did someone else make the decision for you? How does remembering your baptism guide you to do what God wants?
Respond by posting a prayer.
I join many of those who will pray for you as you seek to discern what you are called to be at this moment. May God grant you the courage to fulfill that calling. May we all open our eyes and see the misery, open our ears and hear the cries of God’s people, and, like God through the Lord Jesus Christ, be incarnate amongst them.”
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