You Mean Them Too?Fr. Barnabas Powell
Christ is risen!
There’s a great Country song from 1994 performed by Tim McGraw called “Don’t Take the Girl” and it tells the story of how a young man’s attitude toward the “fairer” sex changes as you get older. But the first part of the song as a young boy beggin his dad not to take the neighborhood girl along with them on their fishing trip! When little Johnny hears his dad is taking a GIRL with them on their afternoon of fishing he says:
“Take Jimmy Johnson
Take Tommy Thompson
Take my best friend Bo”
“Take anybody that you want
As long as she dont go
Take any boy in the world
Daddy please, don’t take the girl”
But immature attitudes are always at the heart of actions of exclusion and premature judgements.
For the past several days we’ve been looking at the story of the first Gentile converts to the Christian faith in the recorded miraculous events surrounding the Roman Centurion Cornelius and St. Peter. We have watched as St. Peter’s attitude had to be changed about that which is considered “unclean.” And it isn’t surprising since the Jewish people had been shaped for centuries by the wisdom preserved in the law about “unclean” foods and not allowing their nation to be “polluted” by mixing their religion with the pagan religions of the peoples around them.
And these Jewish people had learned this lesson the hard way on more than one occasion. The bitterness of their captivity in Egypt was followed by the prophets warning them against compromising with the pagan tribes around them and watering their devotion to the one, true God down with intermarriages and mixing their lives with the lives of those in pagan religions. And each time the nation of Israel would stumble and allow their faith to grow cold and perfunctory, they would face calamity. The Babylonian captivity, the breakup of the 12 tribes with 10 of the 12 tribes so compromising with the pagans that they practically lost all their identity as Jews (think “Samaritans”), the invasions and multiple occupations of their land by foreign armies all made these Jewish people extremely suspicious of any suggestion of “mixing” with “outsiders.”
But a different day had dawned with the Enfleshing of God in Christ.
And it was going to take some convincing to even show those Jews who had embraced the Lord as Messiah that now God was even going to save the Greeks, and the Romans, and the Samaritans, and the Egyptians, and the… (well, you get the idea).
In Acts 10:44-48; 11:1-10 St. Peter is preaching the Good News in the home of the Gentile Roman Centurion Cornelius. He has been convinced that God was extending His grace, His salvation, and His Church to anyone who desired to know Him. While St. Peter was declaring this Good News to Cornelius and all his household, the Holy Spirit confirmed His truth that all could come to the Church by displaying a familiar sight to St. Peter.
Not 4 years before this event with Cornelius, the Gentile, in the upper room on the Day of Pentecost, St. Peter and the 120 disciples gathered there in obedience to the Lord’s command to stay in Jerusalem until the promised Holy Spirit was given to them (see Acts 1:4). And when the Holy Spirit was given to them, the disciples of Jesus were filled with confidence, and even the ability to speak to all the people gathered there in Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost in their native languages so everyone would understand the Good News of new life in Christ!
And now, that same Holy Spirit was doing the same thing with these Gentiles! What further proof did St. Peter need that God was no respecter of persons but accepts everyone and anyone who longs to know Him!
But notice that Cornelius’ household had been being prepared for this for years. This good man loved God, yes, the God of the Jews. He gave alms. He was kind. He prayed all the hours of prayer of the faith, and he taught his family to do the same! No wonder Cornelius and his family and friends gathered that day were given such a welcome into the Faith! They had been preparing their hearts for years to be in the right place at the right time. It was no accident, and it was no wonder. They were ready and so God made the deepest desire of their hearts reality!
Today, are you able to help all the folks around you who are spiritually hungry for the fullness of the faith ready to receive it and embrace it? What are the barriers in your heart, your head, and even your community to be the conduit of God’s Good News to “whosoever will” that give the impression to those who hunger for God that they are not welcome in your life, your parish, your faith?
Whatever these barriers are, know they are not just barriers to those who want what we gratefully possess. They are also barriers to you that keep you from the incredible blessings and spiritual fruit those who long for God can bring to you as well. You are hurting yourself with these barriers. The days of fear and isolation are over. Now it’s time to welcome everyone into our spiritual home! Christ is risen and there is no more death!
Today, let us dare to join St. Peter in coming to the joyous truth that “What God has cleansed you must not call common.” (Acts 11:10)