We have reached the point in the Acts of the Apostles where the task of proclaiming the Good News takes a radical new tack and veers toward bringing the Word of God to the Gentiles. Up until this point, the task of proclaiming the Resurrection has been focused on the Jewish community, first in Jerusalem and then in neighboring towns and villages. Notably, it is Peter, the erstwhile leader of the community, who first preaches to and baptizes the Gentiles. Paul takes up the role of apostle to the Gentiles only after Peter has broken the ice.
It is easy for us, living as we do some 2,000 years later, to minimize this new venture. We are, after all, most of us products of that evangelization. However, we would not be far amiss if we likened this movement to the Voting Rights Act of the 1960's or Harry Truman's directive to integrate the Armed Services in the late 1940's and early 1950's. Just as the Civil Rights Movement of the late 20th Century caused a tremendous amount of upheaval in the minds of many white Americans, so too the decision to preach to and baptize the men and women of the Gentile community. "Those who were far off," a term that St. Paul uses in his letter to the Ephesians, is the same kind of derogatory term for Gentiles as the racial slurs that white Americans used to use for black people. We get a sense of that in today's reading from the Acts when the elders of the community assemble to question Peter's actions.
Peter's expressed his response to the actions of the Holy Spirit while in the house of Cornelius in these words: In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him (Acts 10:34b-35). These words are just as powerful today as they were 2,000 years ago. Yet many still struggle with the practical application of them. There simply is no place in the community for prejudice or bias of any kind.
- Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator