When we are faced with an impossible choice we often reply, “That’s like asking me which one of my kids is my favourite”. Now I’m sure all of my kids would tell you that there is indeed a favourite child, but I’m going on record as saying there isn’t. In fact, one of the hardest parts of parenting is ensuring not only fairness is done but that fairness is also seen to be done. I can’t tell you the times my wife and I have agonised over ensuring Christmas presents are equal for all our kids. But the question of favouritism is what we are looking at this week in our reading with Peter’s conversion of the Roman centurion, Cornelius.
As a commander in the occupying army, there would not be a lot of love for Cornelius. As a non-Jew, Jews would also see him as unclean. From Israel’s perspective, God had chosen them to be special; in choosing Israel, God has not chosen other nations. So as far as they are concerned, Israel is God’s favourite. And when Peter then goes to Cornelius and spends time with him it causes a lot of consternation. Peter will be making himself “unclean” through this association, and by extension them as well. Peter is called before the church council to give a “please explain”. Which he does, detailing that God has revealed to him that there are no favourites as far as God is concerned. It is for God to determine who should receive grace, not the church. God wants all of creation to be reconciled, not just Israel.
While Peter thought that some people were “unclean”, God’s mission could not advance. Like Paul, Peter has to be converted to see things as God does to fulfil his role in God’s plan. Through prayer and the nudging of the Spirit, Peter’s theology is broadened to include those he had though were not worthy of God’s grace. Today we are very quick to do the same. We like to label those who think differently from us so we can identify them. We like to think that we are now the “chosen” ones and God’s grace does not extend to the “others”. Our reading today is a reminder that God’s grace is God’s to offer, not ours. Jesus called us to love our neighbour, there’s no conditions attached to that commandment. If God has no favourites, neither should God’s church. May we minister to our entire community as Christ ministered to us. If God can grace the commander of an enemy army, who do we think is beyond receiving it?