Preconceptions and God’s perspective
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Acts 10: 17-48 (NRSVA)
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.’
34 Then Peter began to speak to them: ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36 You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. 37 That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39 We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 40 but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 41 not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.’
44 While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, 46 for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, 47 ‘Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’ 48 So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.
The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles.
Unconscious bias, conscious bias. We fall so easily into these. For many years I believed orthopaedic surgeons had the emotional range of a cabbage until I spent a very pleasant evening with one at a conference. I was — of course — quite wrong about my orthopaedic colleagues. It’s so easy to put people into boxes, to miss the real them underneath what they choose to show us. For us spiritual types, it can be so easy to construct our own vision of God and think he thinks the way we do.
It’s understandable but it’s simply wrong. God’s love, the greatest power in the known universe, cannot be constrained in any box of any man’s making. We cannot know the mind of God but we can know his love, we can commune with him and he with us in all sorts of ways. He gives us just the nudge(s) we need to let our souls grow.
Here Cornelius and Paul had to be given visions to get them together and to remind those with preconceptions that it’s best not to have these when dealing with God! We get this story about Paul and Cornelius’s visions so that we won’t need visions ourselves to understand that we can’t understand, but that we can let our light shine for everyone absolutely everyone to see and give and receive blessings in abundance.
Father God let me commune with you now
Give me a love for all people and all creatures and all the wide world in which I breathe
I thank you for all of it.
Take away my preconceptions and any bias hidden in my heart.
Let me sail free from the anchor of the past and ride the waves until you call me home.