Them and Us- Monday, 4th Week of Easter- Acts 11:1-18

Them and Us- Monday, 4th Week of Easter- Acts 11:1-18

Most Christians are prone to believing that there is one and only one Pentecost in the Bible; namely the Jerusalem Pentecost, which has found its way in many works of art. Yet the Acts of the Apostles is called ‘the book of the Holy Spirit,’ for precisely this reason that the book resounds with the work of the Spirit descending on the Church at several places and times.

In the Acts we hear of the Samaritan Pentecost (chapter 8) and the Gentile Pentecost (Chapter 10), thus making it clear as Peter said, “that God shows no partiality”(10:34). But this fact was hard to digest for the circumcised believers (Jews who now followed Jesus). So what really was their problem?

Leviticus 11 made clear that one was prohibited from eating certain animals that the Gentiles had no problem relishing (the pig being one of them.) For a Jew to sit at the same table with a Gentile was itself unthinkable. To eat from the same table, food that was prohibited, was considered an abomination. No wonder then that Peter got anything but a hero’s welcome when returning to Jerusalem; for he had gone down on two counts irrespective of the successful mission that had brought so many to the Lord.

Peter does not take the “criticism” personally or give into his own temper tantrum, the once knife wielding, ear cutting aggressive man has now been transformed by His own personal Pentecost. This is a transformed Peter with the gift of wisdom for he now “explains to them step by step” the events that led him to not only go to the uncircumcised, but also eat with them.

Make no mistake, the Holy Spirit requires our openness, and Peter himself did not get the message all at once – the message that God wanted him to take His Word and mission to the uncircumcised. By Peter’s own admission he says, “three times “he was told that what God had made everything clean and hence he must not call them profane.” Peter acknowledges how long it took him to be open to the new direction the Spirit was leading him to, and so he gets it when the disciples at Jerusalem are mad at him and reluctant to accept his actions so quickly.

The Church is clearly growing, and chapter ten and eleven labour this point through the vision of the centurion Cornelius, who as a result called Peter to his home (a Gentile home). The two chapters labour thrice the story of Peter’s own vision on the terrace where the Lord tells him all that has been created is clean and not profane. For the Church to grow, it needed openness of mind and heart. No longer could there be “them and us” (11:12). The Spirit that God gave the Church in Jerusalem is the “same Spirit” that He gave the Samaritans and the “same Spirit” that is given to the Gentiles (11:15). It is “the same gift” (11:17)!

We are told that the Jerusalem disciples were not only silenced but that they praised God for the gift of the Spirit to the Gentiles. The closing verses of the pericope makes for several interesting reflections and I wish to focus on one; namely that Pentecost or the coming down of the Holy Spirit is primarily a “gift” given to “believers”. It is this gift that opens our hearts to welcoming others and celebrating even our differences with them, as the Jewish Church did with the Gentile Church. Openness is not a matter of my personal will, but willingness to the promptings of the Spirit.

With all the differences we have today in the world, in our nations, Churches and families, have we inadvertently used the institutions we belong to, to become stumbling blocks to the promptings of the Spirit?

Fr Warner D’Souza

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