In today’s lesson, Peter is put on the defensive for socializing with an apparently inferior class – the Gentiles – uncircumcised and unclean. It didn’t matter that Cornelius and his entire household had “…accepted the word of God.” All that mattered to the critics was the appearance of the situation – Peter had entered the home of Gentiles and had eaten at their table. Peter knew he'd be criticized, but he acted on faith, on the words of God in his vision, on the power of the Spirit -- that God offered salvation and eternal life to Jews and to Gentiles equally.
A few days ago I saw a news feature about a lawyer who, several years ago, gave up her lucrative practice in order to work with criminals scheduled to be released into society. While many of us would avoid looking at or speaking to a criminal, she did the opposite. She looked at and saw in them the potential for hard-working, honest citizens. She reached out and generously offered her God-given time and skills to teach them. She believed in them and taught them to believe in themselves so that when they finally got the opportunity to start over, they’d get it right. The statistics of prisoners returning to prison after being released speak loudly in favor of her program. Prior to her program, 60% returned to prison. After taking her program, only 5% returned to prison.
While listening to this news feature, I wondered about the reaction of the victims and their families – victims of the crimes these convicts had committed. Would any of them have criticized the lawyer for even trying? Would they, even now, recognize and acknowledge the success of her work?
Fortunately for us, God sees our potential, he is generous, and in his eyes, none of us is beyond saving, even when we make big mistakes. It took Peter six witnesses and a well-rehearsed step-by-step account of how God had spoken to him about this matter to silence his critics. What will it take to silence our criticism or judgment of others, especially those who are different from us?
Heavenly Father, thank you for offering salvation and eternal life to each and every one of us. May we receive your Grace each time we are tempted to judge or to criticize others. Amen.