At a time when we see an uproar calling for respect, fairness and equality for all, it is a good time to also reflect and think about prejudices we as followers of Christ can have which can bleed through in a subtle manner in our everyday behaviour. As I read Acts 10, I was drawn to reflect on subtle prejudices we can harbour that may come out to people who have a different faith, who worship differently than us, who grew up in a different culture or those who make lifestyle choices that go against our grain of faith.
In Acts 10 we see God’s hand in bringing Cornelius and Peter to meet. This has a massive impact not only on Cornelius and those with Him but also on Peter. This story can be read in its entirety in Acts 10:1-33.
This scripture passage can be largely divided in three parts:
- Cornelius’s vision
- Peter’s vision
- Gentiles hearing the good news
Cornelius’s Vision – Cornelius, was a God-fearing man who prayed regularly and gave to those in need. He had a vision and in the vision an angel appeared and said “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. He is staying with Simon the tanner; whose house is by the sea.”
Cornelius was a gentile, and for a gentile at that time to follow Jesus he had to convert to Judaism which included fulfilling all the man-made obligatory requirements to be considered a Jew. Although no details about that is entailed in the passage, we see with clarity that Cornelius held God in high regard in his life, he gave God a rightful place, he demonstrated a reverence and understanding of the need to acknowledge and worship God. It was not just a verbal acknowledgement as it was evident in his actions of actively seeking God through prayer and giving to those in need.
The angel tells Cornelius that his prayer and giving went up like a memorial offering.
What is a memorial offering?
Memorial offering – was a portion of the grain offering burned on the altar and the purpose of the grain offering was a voluntary act of worship, recognising God’s goodness, provision and is also act of devotion to God (Leviticus 2).
This gives us insight into the heart of Cornelius and the motive behind his actions of prayer and giving. Note that his prayers are also part of what makes up the memorial offering. Prayers can easily be said as rote or for an audience but we see that his prayers were genuine in praising and worshipping God. A reminder that what lies in one’s heart is clearly known to God and to have the understanding that the giver of all our blessings is God who alone is worthy to be praised and worshipped. We also see him having the right attitude towards the blessings he received from God, which is something to be shared with those in need rather than to hoard for ourselves (Hebrews 13:16)
Peter’s Vision – Further on we read that as Peter was saying his prayers at noon, he had a vision wherein he saw a large sheet being let down from heaven towards him. This sheet contained a variety of animals, reptiles and birds. A voice then tells him “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” To this peter replies “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” The voice then speaks to him a second time saying, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”
So deeply ingrained was the observation of that which is pure and impure to consume that Peter was puzzled by what God was trying to tell him. This happens three times, we know that when God says something more than once He clearly wants to convey the importance of his message. We see later on the revelation and understanding of the meaning behind this vision.
Cornelius in obedience to God sends three men to bring Peter back to his house. The three men arrive at Peter’s house and proceed to explain why they were there. Peter on arriving to Cornelius’s house which was filled with a large gathering of people is greeted by Cornelius who falls down prostrate at Peter’s feet.
Peter is very clear in verse 26 when he reiterates that he is just a man like them and only God should be worshipped.
In verse 28 we begin to see Peter coming to an understanding of what God was trying to reveal to him through the vision. He says “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean.”
What a powerful perspective change for Peter.
- He recognises that his vision had a deeper significance than just what was clean or unclean to consume.
- He begins to understand with more clarity what Jesus was teaching about – taking the gospel to the ends of the earth.
- He begins to see more clearly that God loves and cares for each and every one and Jesus died on the cross not just for the Jews but for each and every soul out there.
We can all be prone to prejudices; we see it within the church. It may be something subtle that is a part of us because it has just been something that was always there in our time and we do not see things differently or sometimes do not bother to address them. We can box individuals based on their appearance, their habits, their relationship status or which denomination of church they go to among other things. I must admit that I have been guilty of sometimes looking through a jaded lens.
But the wonderful news is that God will gently and patiently teach us to open our eyes to things we have been looking at the wrong way.
For us: May we like Peter be open to God’s teaching and correction and work in His strength to set aside any prejudices we might have.
Cornelius then proceeds to explain the vision to Peter and then we see Peter share another very popular verse “I now realise how true it is that God does not show favouritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.”.
We see Peter grasp a deeper understanding of the purpose of the vision. Peter was staying at Simon the tanner’s house, at that time tanners were considered unclean. And yet we see that Peter had not yet completely let go of all prejudice that he developed over the years. We see God further breaking down prejudices that Peter had. Although we see Peter making progress here, we later on read in Galatians 2:11-14, that he struggled with openly mingling with the gentiles in the presence of the Jews and later on repents when Paul speaks the truth to him about his behaviour.
Peter a great disciple of Jesus, took time in breaking down his pre-conceived notions, but God was patient and over time helped him to see and openly treat everyone through the lens of God.
For us: May we be open to God challenging our shortcomings, yield in obedience and realign our perspectives so that they align with God’s view and be more like Him. It is a process that does not happen overnight, it takes time while we weed out those unwanted prejudices.
The Gentiles hear the good news – The Holy Spirit falls on them all, and the Jews were astonished. Peter says “Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.”
I love this part of the story. Not only is something radical for the time happening, the Jews and gentiles mingling together being taught about salvation by Peter and God goes, hmmm, I am going to crank it up a notch and pours the Spirit on them. By seeing this, there is no room for questioning the acceptance and the desire of God for all to be saved. If the Holy spirit can see fit to reside within anyone who repents and accepts the Lord in faith who are we to have prejudices and deem someone unworthy.
Jesus loves us all and His message of salvation does not come with a tag of prejudice attached to it. The body of Christ – us – His church should be more aware and intentional in being accepting and welcoming to everyone especially those who do not fit into the mould of a church goer.
May we reflect on any prejudices we might have however trivial they may seem and allow God to work in us to shed those barriers we put up and exalt His name.