Each time the Church reads lectionary texts from the book entitled Acts of the Apostles I come to appreciate these followers of Jesus in a deeper way. One might call this book “The rest of the story” – when the followers of Christ became the major characters and needed to listen inwardly to God’s directives rather than having recourse to the physical presence of Jesus. Peter is especially interesting to me this year as he takes the leadership that Christ called him to at that famous catch of fish in the early morning of breakfast on the beach.
Today’s reading from chapter 11 (1-18) Is especially timely in our day, I think, as Peter related his vision which indicated acceptance of others whose ritual laws were different from his own. Listen to Peter’s words:
- But a second time a voice from heaven answered, “What God has made clean, you are not to call profane.”
- The Spirit told me to accompany them without discriminating.
- If then, God gave them the same gift he gave to us when we came to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to be able to hinder God?
It must have taken a lot of courage for Peter to veer from what had always been his beliefs to consider those of others. It could only have been grace that allowed him to see more clearly and deeply what was needed. I think of Pope John XXIII, now a canonized saint of the Roman Catholic Church, who was similarly called in 1959 to announce the Second Vatican Council, a world-wide gathering of prelates and consultants to “update” the Church to deal with issues of the times. By the end of the Council that occurred each autumn season from 1962 to 1965, the participants had produced 16 foundational documents, five of which spoke directly to relationships with other religious groups – Christians and beyond. Different in scope but similar in intent, Peter and John XXIII changed the face and welcome of what had been to what might be for a better future.
We do not need to abandon our own beliefs in order to welcome others. We simply (or not so simply) need a clear eye and an open heart to hear the deep yearnings of people. If we listen carefully, we will likely find more to accept than to deny and a widening of understanding will benefit the whole.
May the Spirit of God be found in us and be spoken aloud for the good of the world!