Enter stage right, Cornelius, a Roman centurion stationed at Caesarea on the coast. Cornelius is not a disciple like Peter, not a Roman Jew Pharisee like Saul, but a genuine Gentile. He is not a believer but what today we would call a “seeker.” He and his family are devout, God-fearing, and generous to the needy. Sometimes we tend to think that people who differ from our beliefs must be bad or insensitive to God. We somehow think “the other” is evil. Cornelius presents a challenge on several fronts to the early believers.
Cornelius initiates contact, not Peter. One afternoon, walking through the poor area in our city in Kenya with my students, a lady called to me and asked, “When are you going to visit me?” She must have seen us walking by weekly for visitation but we did not know her but she called to us. We went to her house and sat down. She said, “I am a Muslim and my husband is a Christian. What is the difference?” That is the only time something like that happened to me so point blank. She was seeking. Cornelius was seeking truth also. Cornelius had a vision while praying and sends trusted people to find Peter. God was changing the existing paradigm.
Secondly Cornelius was not a Jew and Jews were not to visit in Gentile homes. Peter had to make a decision about how he thought he should behave. Sometimes we fall into habits of how we think “faith” should be done. When confronted with uncomfortable situations, we have to evaluate how we will engage with the “the other.”
Spiritual growth often involves being aware of God working in ways we do not expect and in places we are not looking. Sister Act 1 and 2 creates a movie about a nightclub singer who hides in a convent under witness protection and contextualizes songs from the 60s and makes them into worship songs. I always find it charming. The love we associate with dating suddenly becomes applicable to nuns and their faith. We call it contextualization.
The question, I think, from our reflection today is to ask the Holy Spirit if there are ways in which I have fallen into a rut and expect God to work in certain ways? My prayer is for eyes that are open to see God working in others and in ways that could open up sharing faith with them. Cornelius was willing to reach out to Peter but would Peter – or I – respond? Blessings.