It was the end of another busy day when I received a call from a close friend who lived on the other side of the country. Unable to answer the call, I made it a point to get back to him when I had time. Then he called again and followed that up with a call to my cell. Sensing the urgency, as well as my wife telling me that his fiancé had sent us a message indicating they had received bad news, I raced up stairs to give him a call. When I was able to reach him, I could tell something was up and that is when he proceeded to inform me that he had been diagnosed to colon cancer.
With my heart in my feet, my reaction was similar to most who receive news of this sort, that of disbelief. As I gathered myself and tried to string a thought together my friend, who is really more like a brother, proceeded to tell me of the circumstances that led to the diagnosis. A part of the story that struck me was of his family doctors initial passive response to his concerns when first brought to his attention; a story heard all too often in young people. Saving that rant for another day, we were left with the reality that there truly is no prejudice with cancer. It does not discriminate.
Under normal circumstances a lack of prejudice or discrimination in society would be cause for celebration. But when it comes to cancer that is never the case. I have seen and heard of this disease, synonymous with pain and death, bring the strongest to their knees. Were that the end of the story I would surely despair. But as seen with cancer, the lack of discrimination, this perceived habitual lack of prejudice is also found in the grace of our God in Christ. The only deference being that of the consistency in its application; a truth the Apostle Peter experienced to the full during an encounter with a Roman Centurion named Cornelius and a large crowd he brought together. The detailed encounter is found in Acts chapter 10.
In an effort to give context to the story, it should be known that Cornelius, his family and associates were known as gentiles. To be known or referred to as a gentile would mean to identify someone as not Jewish. For Peter, being a Jew, to associate with a gentile would go against his religious beliefs and its customs. For him to do this, to put himself in conflict with his people, would have required something of a miraculous nature and that is exactly what happened.
The chapter starts out will Cornelius being recognized by God through a vision for his piety and the way he cared for the poor; not something normally said of a Roman Centurion back in the day. He is told to send for a man named Peter who will bring a message of good news. At the same time, Peter is having a vision of different types of food, known to be avoided by the Jews, placed before him to eat. Peter promptly refuses to eat that deemed unclean which leads to the following response found in Acts 10 v 15:
“The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.””
After a bit more back and forth the food is taken and before long he is on his way to Cornelius’s house.
Upon arriving, Cornelius falls before Peter’s feet as if he were royalty. Peter’s response grips me to this day while keeping me humble at the same time. In Act 10 v 26 we read:
“But Peter made him get up. “Stand up,” he said, “I am only a man myself.””
Peter never loses sight of who he is in light of who his creator is; something I feel we as a North American society could learn from.
Knowing the position Peter finds himself in, he states the following in verse 28:
“He said to them: “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean.”
Again, never losing sight of his position in light of the Creator. So, forget identifying the elephant in the room right out of the gate. He slays the thing and from there they share the events resulting in there coming together.
In answering the call of the evangelist; a call given to all who call on Christ or identify themselves as a Christian, Peter understands the purpose of the meeting and proceeds to minister the gospel of grace in Christ which is welcomed by the large crowd in attendance. As he delivers his message and fulfills his purpose, the Holy Spirit is poured out on all present and he bears witness to its power. In awe Peter confesses that which was the case from the beginning but had been lost; that the grace of Christ is and has always been for everyone who believes. Peter’s confession is heard in verse 47 of Acts 10:
“Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.”
Mission accomplished as the family grew and all were baptized.
This lack of discrimination needs to be understood in the faith today if we are to disperse the gospel in a way that is in line with the biblical narrative. We have our model in Jesus. Being selective is to not be Christian; a truth the Apostle Paul was sure to avoid. He knew the gospel was for everyone as he, the self-described worst of the sinners, was saved. When the Jews of Acts 13 rejected it, he told them plainly that he was taking it to the Gentiles and for those whose hearts responded, as stated in Acts 11, were simply called Christians. This has not changed for us today. Nor will it change for those of tomorrow. We are called and to be called Christians.
Whether it was Jesus running towards the leper or the demon possessed when everyone else was running the other way; whether it was Jesus or the Apostles heading to their death; the gospel, its scope and power, were always at the forefront. Regardless of what life may bring; regardless of who we may encounter; that we, like Paul, would always be able to say:
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor principalities, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8 v 38 – 39
I pray this to be the lens with which we view the world and hence become a change agent for Christ for its benefit.
God Bless – Sean Bosse