Wednesday, May 8, 2013

What God Has Made Clean

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Today’s focus passage completes a story that began with chapter 10. It picks up after the story from last week – Peter raising Tabitha in the town of Joppa at the end of Acts 9. And, it echoes some themes from the week before that – Saul met by Jesus in a vision on the road to Damascus, and the visionary call of a reluctant Ananias to pray over Saul, also in Acts 9.

Remember the old joke: Pete and Repeat sat on a fence. Pete fell off. Who was left?

No, this has nothing to do with the Simon Peter in our story. But it does have to do with the structure of the story. It is repetition repetition repetition. The story of Cornelius’ vision is told three times, the vision of Peter is told twice, the events at Cornelius’ home are told twice. First, the story is told to the reader – Cornelius’ vision, Peter’s vision, Peter meets Cornelius (and hears Cornelius tell about his vision), Peter preaches, the people receive the Holy Spirit and the gift of tongues, and he offers water baptism. Second, the story is reported to the Jewish leadership of the church in Jerusalem – Peter’s vision first this time; then Cornelius’; the preaching, Spirit, and baptism.

Pete and Repeat. Why? Because without this story, or something like it, we would not be here. Period. Cornelius was the first disciple of Jesus Christ – filled with the Spirit, baptized with water – who was not a Jew or a convert to Judaism.

Expansion of the mission: Paired visions in Acts
Saul & Ananias
Peter & Cornelius
The mission expands by inclusion of persons we prefer to exclude

Reluctance of the missionary: "Simon son of Jonah" (Matthew 16.17; Robert W. Wall, JSNT, 29)
Jonah and Simon Peter as reluctant missionaries
Joppa – Jonah leaves for Tarshish, Simon sees his vision
3 ... 3 days and nights in the fish, 3 fold vision
Both: Going where we do not want to go

Racism and reluctance
not casual disregard but actively maintained separation.
Jonah – rather the people of Nineveh die
Racism not easily overcome
not the end of Peter’s personal reluctance to eat with Gentiles (Galatians 2)

no new mission to the Gentiles as a direct result of this event: "They spoke the word to no one except Jews" (Acts 11.19). BUT, the mission to the Gentiles was validated by this event (Acts 15).

Mission expands by inclusionof persons we prefer to exclude.
"What God has made clean, you must not call profane" (10.15, 11.9).
"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" (10.28).
"God shows no partiality" (10.34).
"The Spirit told me ... not to make a distinction between them and us" (11.12).

Cracker Barrel sign:In the spirit of pleasing people, we invite everyone regardless of race, color, disability or national origin to enjoy our restaurant and our old country store. . . . If you feel we have not delivered on this promise, please let us know.

My experience:national – not simply slavery & civil rights, but Arab & Muslim post 9/11
not much along race or culture lines
men’s hair parted in the middle
Spain - greeting with kiss
gay men
historic, mainline Christianity

Reluctance of the missionary overcome when they recognize that they cannot restrain God.

Both the story and the report conclude with the same verb (koluo), a word for "restrain". In the original story, it is used for the water of baptism. In the report, it is used of God – imagine trying to hold God back, attempting to restrain God!

10.47: "Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?"

11.17: "If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?"

Resources: Journal for the Study of the New Testament, 29. (1987) 79-90. "Peter, ‘Son’ of Jonah: The Conversion of Cornelius in the Context of Canon". Robert W. Wall.

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