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.