by Nik Nilsson
I bring to you today a story of convergence. That sounded pretentious, didn’t it? Well, it is a story of convergence, and it’s also a story of change. It’s a story of prayer, and it’s a story of a military man rewarded for his seeking heart with induction into the new Christian church as its first documented Gentile.
For those of you who are bored already, it’s also the story of pigs in a blanket. There will be bacon, so hang on!
Our military man was named Cornelius. He was a Centurion in the Italian Regiment, stationed in the sunny city of Caesarea. He and his family believed in God, they gave to whoever needed it, and they prayed all the time. Essentially, they were good people, and though they were not Jewish, God loved ‘em enough to send an angel their way one afternoon. The angel let Cornelius know that God recognized all the good his family had done and wondered if he’d be so kind as to dispatch a few men to retrieve a gent from the town of Joppa.
The gent? Peter. The Peter, apostle to Jesus Christ and the guy that almost walked on water that one time. So, hearing this, no questions asked, Cornelius rounded up two servants and a God-fearing soldier and gave ‘em the what’s-up.
Being good and obedient people, even for Gentiles, these three packed up their things, got on the road, and headed over to Peter’s house. Their journey was uneventful, took about a day, and ended the next afternoon at Peter’s door.
Now, Peter himself had had quite a day by the time these men arrived. He’d been up on his rooftop praying, and had fallen into a trance and had a vision. In this vision a blanket dropped from heaven, and on it was arrayed a banquet of meat so fresh it was still mooing and oinking. A voice accompanied this blanket, and it said “Go ahead, Peter. Kill and eat.”
One thing we know about the Hebrew faith is how specific it is when it comes to diet. There’s a lot of food out there that’s unacceptable for human consumption, and I’m not just talking about discount sausage and Grandma’s special meatloaf. Peter was as Jewish as they come, so it’s a pretty sure bet that he knew that list inside and out. As solid a follower as he’d become of Jesus Christ, he still had some pretty strong opinions on the relevance of his old laws and customs. They’re Biblical, after all.
So, when this blanket came down Peter refused. Not once, not twice, but three times. Down the blanket would come, a veritable smorgasbord, and up it would go again, its bounty untouched.
Now I gotta stop us right here and say that I know there was a pig on that blanket somewhere. Let me also stress to you that there are few things in this world more important to me than bacon. I love bacon. If a pig full of bacon rode down from heaven and a voice told me to kill and eat, I’d ask that voice to pass me some dynamite and a frying pan.
You can understand, then, that Peter’s refusal conjured in me the very reaction I have each time a Christian tsks at me if I quote Homer Simpson between sips of Cabernet (I’m a classy guy). “What a stick-in-the-mud,” I say to myself, or words to that effect.
Then I take another puff from my stogie.
To be fair, Peter’s got it a lot tougher than I do. The man’s been a Jew for longer than he’s been a Christian, and his former faith is pretty clear that you’re not allowed to eat it if it says “oink.” It’s no stretch for a guy like me to accept Jesus and then immediately stop swearing at his computer or coveting his neighbour’s rider mower. But what if, one day as I’m lost in prayer, I’m infused with the Holy Spirit and told that speed limit laws no longer apply to me?
Actually, I won’t lie to you. That’d be pretty sweet.
But back to Peter: he hasn’t heard the last of it, because there’s a rapping at his front door. Our boys have arrived from Caesarea and the Voice, that same voice which has told him he could eat anything he wanted, the voice whose instructions Peter had just refused based on the Law, had some new words for our man. It said (and I paraphrase), “Go downstairs, where three Gentiles are waiting for you. Don’t ask any stupid questions, just go downstairs and go with them to Caesarea.”
To Peter it must have sounded more like, “Peter, look, I’m going to need you to go ahead and render yourself ritually unclean. There’s a house full of Gentiles in Caesarea that needs my attention, and I’ve sent some other Gentiles here to pick you up and take you there. You will have to mingle with them, and possibly even accidentally bump into some of them, and you’ll have to live under their Gentile roof. I know that this sort of thing is forbidden under the law, but that is the way the kosher cookie crumbles.”
Now, I’ll be honest with you. As I turned the page and took another puff from my stogie, I was quite looking forward to Peter getting in a little bit of trouble here. The guy refuses bacon, and now Peter’s going to refuse again based on the Law. I mean, the laws about Gentiles are a lot stricter than the laws about food. So imagine my disappointment when Peter says, “No problem, Lord!” The guy’s too good for bacon, but consorting with Gentiles? “Certainly, Lord!”
Peter has made a lot of mistakes, but as much as it pains me to say it, here he shows wisdom. God did render acceptable the foods laid out on that sheet, but acceptable and mandatory aren’t the same thing. Food is just food. But when the Gentiles came knocking, Peter knew: this is Ministry.
He didn’t do it much, but this time Peter listened. That day, he placed the church over legalism and brought Jesus out from one specific people and into the world. He put traditions aside and reached out to those who needed his wisdom, Gentiles though they may be.
Can we do the same? Can we place our church over the petty differences Christians are so famous for? Can we forget what translation so-and-so is reading, or whether Johnny says God created Earth in 7 days or 7 millennia? Can we ignore what gaudy colours our neighbours’ Bibles are and just bring Jesus to the world?
Peter didn’t like bacon. I can live with that, because when the chips were down Peter listened to God and invited everybody to become a part of the church he loved so much, even guys like Cornelius.
Even guys like me.
For more information visit Nik Nilsson’s website at www.smallisthegate.com