Reflection for Monday, April 14, 2008: 4th week in Easter.

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Heaney, Robert
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The story of Peter and Cornelius reflects the generally upbeat tone of the post-Easter readings, and thus helps us continue the Easter celebration. But, while interesting in its own right, it's not included in Acts just for our instruction. The event itself was crucially important to the early Church, as shown by the fact that Luke tells it twice _ first in Chapter 10 as the events happen, and then in today's reading from Chapter 11, when Peter is called to account by the Church in Jerusalem for breaking the Jewish laws about clean/unclean and interaction with Gentiles. We might be tempted to say "Well, sure . . ., but Jesus started a new religion; the Jewish rules no longer applied." But that would be historically inaccurate and would, as well, miss the pertinence of this story's message for us. Jesus didn't come to start a religion. His mission was first to the people of Israel, calling them back to their true vocation, which was to manifest God's love for humankind by how they lived and interacted _ Isaiah's city on a hill (Is 60:1_4) drawing all peoples to its radiance and beauty. The original Christians were, of course, all Jews, and considered themselves Jews. Nor did they abandon Judaism after Pentecost. (Recall the story three weeks ago of Peter and John going up to the temple to pray.) They knew Isaiah and knew that their following of Jesus had to include the Gentiles _ but they hadn't worked out how that was to happen. They seem to have presumed that the Gentiles would all have to become Jews in order to be Christian.|Clearly God saw things differently. Luke's use of angelic visions, both to Peter and to Cornelius, underscores the divine origins of bringing the Gentiles into the people of God without their first becoming Jews. Jesus had said you can't put new wine into old wine skins (Luke 5:37). Here, surely, is an instance of what that meant.|Is this just an interesting historical vignette from the first century? Hardly. Religious people always and everywhere settle on a set of practices that express their devotion and fidelity. There is a temptation to say that our way of being religious is ordained by God _ that it is the right way _ the only way. Attachment to a particular set of practices can easily become a form of idolatry. It is a special danger for those of us who are most religious. We _ and our ecclesial leaders _ need to be open to the promptings of the spirit as we _ like Peter _ confront equally wine skin-bursting challenges in our own century.|I can think of a few such challenges. Can you as well?
University Ministry, Creighton University.
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