By Michael Fitzpatrick
A Reading from Acts 10:17-33
17 Now while Peter was greatly puzzled about what to make of the vision that he had seen, suddenly the men sent by Cornelius appeared. They were asking for Simon’s house and were standing by the gate. 18 They called out to ask whether Simon, who was called Peter, was staying there. 19 While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Look, three men are searching for you. 20 Now get up, go down, and go with them without hesitation; for I have sent them.” 21 So Peter went down to the men and said, “I am the one you are looking for; what is the reason for your coming?” 22 They answered, “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say.” 23 So Peter invited them in and gave them lodging.
The next day he got up and went with them, and some of the believers from Joppa accompanied him. 24 The following day they came to Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 On Peter’s arrival Cornelius met him, and falling at his feet, worshipped him. 26 But Peter made him get up, saying, “Stand up; I am only a mortal.” 27 And as he talked with him, he went in and found that many had assembled; 28 and he said to them, “You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean. 29 So when I was sent for, I came without objection. Now may I ask why you sent for me?”
30 Cornelius replied, “Four days ago at this very hour, at three o’clock, I was praying in my house when suddenly a man in dazzling clothes stood before me. 31 He said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. 32 Send therefore to Joppa and ask for Simon, who is called Peter; he is staying in the home of Simon, a tanner, by the sea.’ 33 Therefore I sent for you immediately, and you have been kind enough to come. So now all of us are here in the presence of God to listen to all that the Lord has commanded you to say.”
Being the millennial that I am, it’s hard for me to take someone simply at their word. If someone asks me to set about a task, it’s my instinct to ask why, to understand the justification before saying yes. We’re taught to be so distrustful of submission, of giving another person power over us. The idea that someone might be acting for our good is at odds with a culture that says no one really knows what is best for a person except that person.
What an arresting interaction for people like us to witness between Cornelius and St. Peter! Cornelius is a Roman centurion, and Peter both a loyal Jew and follower of Christ. Their normal social circles don’t overlap, even if Cornelius was a God-fearing man, as the text implies. Yet they come together because each is called by God to spend time with and trust the other. Each has something to learn. St. Peter has come to witness that God’s favor can indeed fall on anyone, no matter their ethnic or social background, while Cornelius and his household invite St. Peter in to receive the power of the Spirit through his ministry.
These two were not spiritually gifted in ways we are not. They were simply open, willing to let the Spirit move them in whatever direction, even towards each other, as socially awkward as that might be. Let us pray this week for a similar openness, that as the Spirit of the Living One moves in our community, we might be gripped by that pneumatic current and move with it.
Michael Fitzpatrick is a doctoral student in philosophy at Stanford University. He attends St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Palo Alto, Calif., where he serves as a lay preacher and teacher.
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Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y.
The Diocese of Manicaland (Church of the Province of Central Africa)