Daily Reflection
May 13th, 2003
Dennis Hamm, S.J.
Theology Department
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Acts 11:19-26
Psalms 87:1-3, 4-5, 6-7
John 10:22-30

The reading from Acts gives us a precious glimpse of a moment in the formation of the early Church. Whereas the Great Commission at the end of the Gospel of Matthew (“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations”) makes the early church’s mission to the Gentiles seem a simple and obvious thing, the narrative of Acts gives a more complicated picture. 

It took a series of visions and a fresh Pentecost in Cornelius’ household for Peter to fully realize that the Gospel was meant for non-Jews as well (see Acts 10.)  And today’s segment from the Acts of the Apostles shows how the Christian mission spread out from Jerusalem because they were scared out of town. The Jerusalem “Jews-for-Jesus” community was scattered by the persecution that arose because of Stephen. At first they preached the word to no one but other Jews. Because some of these missioners happened to be Greek-speakers from Cyprus and Cyrene, they began to share the good news of the Lord Jesus with some of the Gentiles in Antioch in northern Syria. Those Antiochene Gentiles turned out to be surprisingly responsive, and the number of those who joined to “Jews-for-Jesus” group in Antioch grew enormously. This unexpected development led the Jerusalem leaders to send Barnabas to check out what was happening. Barnabas recognized this development as the grace of God. God apparently wanted this to happen.
This all seems very natural and inevitable to us now, but the historian Luke records this as a stunning breakthrough. People who before lived in a kind of social apartheid were coming together in community because of a shared faith in Jesus of Nazareth as Messiah and Lord.

When I read this, I am moved to ask, who are the “Gentiles” among us today? Could they be Christians of other denominations? If there is a barrier between us and others who are baptized into the same body of Christ, maybe we need to pray that the Holy Spirit teach us how to overcome those barriers. Or, are some of our “Gentiles” (ironically) Jews? Maybe it will help us overcome centuries of Christian anti-Judaism if we learn more about the Jewish roots of Christian origins and how the revelation of God came to us by way of the Jewish story of God’s life with the people of Israel. Or maybe our Gentiles are members of our own Christian denomination whom we dismiss as (depending on our point of view) “liberal” or “conservative”—while we affirm our own clique as (again, depending on our perspective) “progressive” or “orthodox.” Let’s allow Luke’s history to remind us that God’s work with our church is unfinished and that the Spirit is always ready to turn apparent disaster into fresh beginnings.


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