On The Outside
“Then Peter began to speak to them: ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation, anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.’” – Acts 10:34-35, NRSV
What did Peter think in Acts 10 when he was told to share the Gospel with Cornelius? Of course, we know the actual process that he went through. He received the call, then the vision of animals in a sheet then was told that there were men looking for him, sent from Cornelius. But because the account in Acts is told in a few hundred words, we forget that Peter had to walk all the way from Joppa to Caesarea, a trip of over 50 kilometers. Peter had a lot of time to think about what he was getting into.
Did he second-guess his call? Did he question whether Cornelius had really heard from an angel of the Lord? He had already received the vision from God, had already been told that “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” (v. 15) But often when we are confronted with the true scope of God’s grace, we fail to see all of it. This was also a constant failure of the religious leaders in the Gospels. How could this Jesus, whom people say is the Messiah, want to spend His time with sinners and tax collectors? Peter had seen many of those interactions firsthand, but I still wonder if there wasn’t something at the back of his mind thinking that maybe, just maybe, God had made a mistake in revealing Himself to the Gentiles.
While I cannot speak for anyone else, my own misgivings about God’s grace often begin inwardly. The belief that some people are outside of God’s grace carries an unspoken assumption that we are within those same boundaries. In my experience, this is one of the biggest temptations of those who are raised within the Church. We are in, and those people (whoever they are) are out. But this assumption conveniently ignores just how much God had to forgive in our own lives, and how far away from the Lord we have been. Being reminded of that grace also serves to remind us that among those who are “outside” God is already at work.
These days it feels like division is the rule, rather than the exception. It is very tempting to surround ourselves with people who agree with us, and who have a vested interest in telling us who the outsiders are. And yet, Christ is already at work in those places. Just as we were once on the outside and pursued by God’s grace, so we see that God’s grace is already at work among those that humans reject.