A Fragile Stone: pg. 171-173
"The Reluctant Reconciles - Saying 'No' To God"
October 9th, 2019
Read: ACTS 10:1-33
The ploy does not work. Peter displays one last time one of the consistent facets of his character. He apparently says "no" three times to God. Certainly he must have taken it all as a test. He will not fail by following the voices' instructions and eating was is unclean. His ritual purity, rooted in his own concept of works-righteousness, is the last vestige of his old orthodoxy that need to go. All at once it is over. The sail is gone. Peter is left alone, puzzled by what it all might mean.
At that precise moment Cornelius's servants arrive. Luke is careful to tell us that they stood outside at the gate and called in for Peter. As Gentiles they are aware that it is not allowed for them to enter and defile a Jewish home, even one that smells like Simon's!
Peter goes down to meet them and hears for the first time a story he will retell for the rest of his life. Since it is evening, he makes the remarkable gesture of inviting them into the house to stay the night. The only thing worse than a tanner's house is a tanner's house full of Gentiles!
When they arrive at Cornelius's house the next day, they find that a hungry crowd has already gathered there to hear what Peter has to say. The level of Cornelius's expectation is revealed when he falls down before Peter as if to worship him. After all, he was just yesterday talking to an angel about Peter. Peter, horrified at the prospect, tells him to get up. He is only an ordinary man like Cornelius.
As they are making their way together into the house, Peter says at first what any good Jewish man should say at the prospect of entering a Gentile home: "You know I'm not supposed to be here." But somewhere along the way, perhaps as he walked beside the sea, as he had done so many times with Jesus, Peter had put two and two together. The central category of his life, his concepts of "clean and unclean," had come into direct conflict with the light of his ecstasy. Though the dream had been about food, Peter understood that he had wrongly extended the notion of clean and unclean to people. The vision had exposed the hypocrisy in his heart and in the heart of his beliefs. He had avoided "unclean" people like the forbidden foods he had been raised to loathe. Yet God had created people, all people. Jesus, Peter knew, had died so that the distinction between clean and unclean could be subjugated. Jesus could make anyone clean - even the last person on earth he might expect to be clean: a Roman soldier, one of the very ones who had crucified Jesus!
What an earthquake this caused in Peter's soul! It was a direct assault on one of his most basic beliefs. But Jesus had come to shatter and redefine everything. Certainly it is a shattered Simon who makes his way, for the first time in his life, into the Gentile dwelling. He will find there men and women, like himself, who want nothing less than to eat the true bread of heaven. People who, though they live in darkness, have nonetheless seen a great Light!