Monday, May 2, 2016

Acts 11:15-17 (GNT): Seeing Beyond our Preconceived Notions



“And when I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came down on them just as on us at the beginning. Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ It is clear that God gave those Gentiles the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ; who was I, then, to try to stop God!”

Peter, in the eleventh chapter of Acts, dictates the details of a mystic vision he has to the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, the vision that declares all animals clean: “What God calls clean, you are not to call profane” (Acts 14:9). This vision challenges Peter’s preconceived notions about clean and unclean foods according to the Mosaic Law. Immediately after the vision, Peter accompanies three Gentiles to their home where, when Peter preaches the Gospel, the Holy Spirit falls upon the Gentiles as it did the original twelve Apostles and others at Pentecost: “And when I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came down on them just as on us at the beginning” (15).

Up until this time, Jewish Christians rejected Gentile converts to Christianity. Their preconceived notions got in the way of God’s grace. It wasn’t until Peter realizes his mistake and says, “It is clear that God gave those Gentiles the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ; who was I, then, to try to stop God” (17).  

This incident is the first step into including the Gentiles into the church, and Peter’s proclamation in the Spirit proclaims God’s plan of salvation for all through Jesus Christ. The matter is fully settled at the Jerusalem Council in Acts chapter 15. Jesus’ love and sacrifice is for all people, even those we think, like Peter and the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, are unworthy or “unclean.” Jesus offers himself on the cross for the unjust as he does for the devoted and pious. Peter, against his upbringing and religious traditions, listens to the vision of the Holy Spirit, gets past his preconceived notions, and surrenders to God’s will.

As I go out into the world, can I, too, like Peter, get past my preconceived notions and love others with the welcoming love of Christ? When I am confronted with people from whom I turn away and choose to ignore, can I, instead, embrace them with prayer and hope for their best interests? Even better, can I offer myself to that person in some small way, maybe just a smile and kind greeting? Jesus calls us to love and welcome all people with the same love and welcome he offers us, and he gives us the grace to do this if we, like Mary in Luke 1:38, say, "“Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”


May the peace and love of Christ be with you all.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Matthew 20:10-16 (NRSV): Entitlement and God’s Grace



Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus instructs his disciples about God’s immeasurable love. The parable of the vineyard workers (Matthew 20:1-16) is one of Jesus’ lessons that solidifies his teachings on personal faith and God’s generosity.

The parable symbolically presents three primary characters: the landowner/employer (God), the early laborers (Israel), and the late laborers (Gentiles). Jesus points out that God is generous with his love, forgiveness, and grace to all who turn to him in faith. Duration, personal merit, and lineage (all attributes of the Old Covenant) hold no sway under the New Covenant in Jesus Christ. Entitlement to God’s saving grace, which many first-century Jews claimed, is denounced when the landowner pays the last first and gives each laborer the same pay, whether for one hour’s labor or ten.

Jesus is generous to all sinners who turn to him in faith, whether it is when we are ten-years-old or ninety. His love, forgiveness, and mercy are boundless, and no matter what we do to try to merit his love, our efforts for earnings, as is seen in this parable, cannot achieve a higher place in heaven or “more” grace.  All in faith are paid the same, and our reward is revealed in John 3:16-17:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
I pray and hope to always remember God’s loving generosity. I hope, moreover, to appreciate and lovingly welcome the laborer who is last, like me, who deserves the least, but, instead, is given an inestimable amount of God’s love.

May the peace and love of Christ be with you all.

Stan