You may not realize that your world has just been radically changed, when you read Acts Chapter 10. That’s understandable. You don’t stagger with amazement at what was laid on Peter’s plate only because our cultural context is far removed from the culture of Acts 10. We don’t suck in our breath and feel a little roiling of disgust in our guts, when Peter has a Roman contingent stay in his lodging and then has a warm conversation with a Roman officer in his home, because we are not an observant, Torah abiding, purity keeping, Shabbat observant, glatt kosher Jews.
As Jesus was.
Because Jesus tussled with the religious leaders of his day and was called out by them for breaking Jewish laws, we have a tendency to think that Jesus routinely transgressed the Torah, the law of Israel. I know I do. Didn’t Jesus touch lepers and bleeding women? Didn’t he heal and pick grain on the Sabbath?
Yes. But in every case, Jesus offered his own interpretation of the Torah. His interpretation conflicted with the interpretation of the scribes and Pharisees, but Jesus didn’t say, “The law is no longer valid.” Instead, he defended his behavior as the fullest expression of the Jewish law.
Jesus was an observant, Torah-keeping Jew, as were his parents, and his first followers, including Peter. They might have argued over the application of the law, but the idea that there were no laws about cleanliness, no laws about kosherness, no laws separating Jews and Gentiles was unthinkable.
The religious implications of eating pork or ingesting shellfish might be inconsequential to us. The relational ramifications of communing with Jews who are not clean might be a problem from another time and place.
But Peter’s summation of this encounter still stuns our religious beliefs and practice. If it doesn’t, then we are not paying attention to how the God of Jesus speaks and works, just as Jesus said it would.
Peter says, “I know now that God has no favorites. God shows no partiality.” Peter makes the claim based – not on what Jesus has practiced or taught – but on the movement and the manifestation of the Holy Spirit to himself and to a non-Jew.
Peter’s openness to the Holy Spirit offering a vision of radical acceptance changed the course of Christianity forever. Peter opened the new life available through Jesus to the whole world – to you and me, who would never have been accepted if this vision of God’s impartiality had not been received as the Holy Spirit.
God has no favorites. God shows no partiality. The very phrase continues to shake the consciences of the faithful and the foundations of the church.
NO partiality? The church and believers have felt compelled to be partial. We understand that there is sin, that we are called to repent and change our behavior. We see that there are statements in scripture that expressly forbid certain behaviors and that Jesus himself told people to change their attitudes and actions.
Yet, if the Holy Spirit has come as Jesus said, revealing truth that even Jesus did not live by, then perhaps we are called to accept what once seemed unacceptable to us. Not despite the Bible, but because we believe the Bible.
Because it does not matter who you are, will the church accept gays, lesbians, transgendered and transsexual people, even though there are portions of Scripture that speak against some behaviors? Will we accept those who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?
How accepting is a congregation when soldiers return from war? Or when young citizens enlist? Does it accept the service of its own veterans with honor?
Will we act, today, as if God is as impartial to piercings, tattoos, and body modifications? Remember, yesterday perceived God to be impartial to diamonds, dye jobs, braided hair and uncovered heads of both genders.
Will we accept people of different races, nations, cultures, even though their language, dress, food or customs are entirely foreign to us? Not just tolerate the other, but offer radical hospitality that communes with another in God’s house and in our own homes.
Can the faithful accept those who are disruptive during worship – people with mood or mental disorders, babies who are not always happy, little children filled with questions and comments? Will we accept them, not expecting them to change but welcoming them just as they are?
We don’t really know what Peter meant when he claimed, “God shows no partiality!” He didn’t include a list of who should be included in faith communities and what behaviors had to change. He didn’t offer a biblical case for his assertion. He never said, “Those dietary laws in our Scriptures are now passe.” He never makes a biblical interpretation, and he doesn’t reference Jesus’ behavior or teaching. Peter’s only explanation seems to be “The Holy Spirit led me to this conclusion.”
I am grateful to remember that good Christians have been arguing with one another about the movement of the Holy Spirit, about acceptance and following Jesus since the beginning. It makes today’s church fights seem less threatening, perhaps even sacred. Christians have always debated matters of practice and acceptance. We always will until Jesus returns and we will no longer care about our small battles.
I am grateful that Peter was open to the Holy Spirit and declared: “God shows no partiality. ” He opened the possibility that everyone is accepted in the family of faith. The rules were changed for me and you so that we could be accepted. Who are we, then, to prevent God from blessing all God’s people? Who are we to stand in the way of God’s favor?
The Holy Spirit has come, just as Jesus said. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. Everyone. Just as Jesus said.