“Peter began and explained it to them step by step.” (Acts 11:4)
This is an interesting reading to have for a Mass! Rather than read the actual story of the conversion of Cornelius, the first Gentile (a powerfully dramatic account in Acts 10), the church asks us to meditate on Peter’s re-telling of the story to the believers in Jerusalem. Why should we ponder only a second-hand version of one of the most historic events in the church’s life?
Perhaps the answer is because this reading gives us two vital lessons. The first is the event itself: Everyone is welcomed into the kingdom of God. If even the Gentiles, whom the Jews considered to be sinful and unclean, could receive the Holy Spirit, then no one was excluded. This message should give all of us great hope: God loves each of us fully and completely; he wants all of us to be with him in heaven.
But the second lesson is just as important. Remember that the first Christians were all Jews—many of them devout Jews at that. News that Peter had not only entered a Gentile’s home but had even baptized him would have been extremely scandalous. It’s no wonder that these believers were upset!
This was a tense moment, filled with the potential for impassioned arguments, over-the-top accusations, and severe division. But how did Peter respond? With a clear, stepby-step explanation. He knew his actions were controversial, but he also knew that God was behind it. So he remained calm, and walked the others through the situation as objectively and patiently as he could. There was no sense of defensiveness, fear, or guilt on his part. Neither did he try to pull rank on them: “I’m the chief of the apostles, and what I say goes!” He simply let the story speak for itself.
Peter’s balanced response shows us just how much he trusted in the Holy Spirit’s work. He knew that God didn’t need someone to defend him. He knew he shouldn’t treat his fellow believers as enemies. All he had to do was testify to what he had seen and heard; God would take care of the rest. Isn’t that the way we should treat all situations of tension and conflict?
“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace and unity!”