Open Commentary to the United Methodist Church
And All Christians of Good Faith
(Just What and Who is Acceptable to God)
by Halley Low
From the Book of Acts 10:9-38, 42-43 (NRSV)
About noon the next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat; and while it was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air. Then he heard a voice saying, "Get up, Peter; kill and eat." But Peter said, "By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean." The voice said to him again, a second time, "What God has made clean, you must not call profane." This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven.
Now while Peter was greatly puzzled about what to make of the vision that he had seen, suddenly the men sent by Cornelius appeared. They were asking for Simon's house and were standing by the gate. They called out to ask whether Simon, who was called Peter, was staying there. While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, "Look, three men are searching for you. Now get up, go down, and go with them without hesitation; for I have sent them." So Peter went down to the men and said, "I am the one you are looking for; what is the reason for your coming?" They answered, "Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say." So Peter invited them in and gave them lodging.
The next day he got up and went with them, and some of the believers from Joppa accompanied him. The following day they came to Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. On Peter's arrival Cornelius met him, and falling at his feet, worshiped him. But Peter made him get up, saying, "Stand up; I am only a mortal." And as he talked with him, he went in and found that many had assembled; and he said to them, "You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without objection. Now may I ask why you sent for me?"
Cornelius replied, "Four days ago at this very hour, at three o'clock, I was praying in my house when suddenly a man in dazzling clothes stood before me. He said, 'Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. Send therefore to Joppa and ask for Simon, who is called Peter; he is staying in the home of Simon, a tanner, by the sea.' Therefore I sent for you immediately, and you have been kind enough to come. So now all of us are here in the presence of God to listen to all that the Lord has commanded you to say." Then Peter began to speak to them: "I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ – he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced; how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him…He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."
Often the vision of Peter is quoted as example of how we Christians are freed from the dietary laws. But if we read closely, the text reveals that it is not the dietary laws that are really the question. The real question isn’t what is acceptable to eat but who is acceptable to God – “but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean”.
All who believe and do what is right are acceptable. The question now becomes, is it acceptable to be a homosexual? If being a homosexual is a sin, in and of itself, and sin is being in a state of oppression by the devil, it is interesting to note that in all four gospels, as Jesus “went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil”, there is not one instant where Jesus “healed” a homosexual, not one mention of this supposed “oppression by the devil” in need of healing, not one. If this, which has become such a concern of the modern church, had in fact been a concern of Jesus, would he not at least once demonstrated such concern and had it recorded in the record of his work?
In the old days, the eunuch was a person who was outside of the norms of sexuality; because the eunuch was not part of the accepted or normative expression of human sexuality and family life the eunuch was barred from the temple. The eunuch is a clear symbol of that which is outside the sexual norm, as is the homosexual today. However, God declared in Isaiah 56 – “do not let the eunuch say, ‘I am just a dry tree.’ For thus says the Lord; To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give, in my house and within my walls, a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.” This is the same sentiment that is spoken in Acts. Being a eunuch did not place the person outside of God’s love or God’s house, the important thing is the person’s heart. Likewise, being a homosexual does not place a person outside of God love or God’s house, the important thing is the person’s heart.
In the above story recorded in Acts, Cornelius is not considered to be part of Abraham’s inheritance, he is judged by those who think they know the law to be unclean. Yet God listened to Cornelius’ prayer and answered him. Peter knew the letter of the law, he knew that Cornelius was considered unclean, but God lifted the veils from Peter’s eyes so that Peter could declare that now “I truly understand…that in every nation anyone who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to God.” What is right? To do good and to heal; to have faith in the One who is Lord and to follow in His way. Those that do this are acceptable to God. The spirit of the law is love which breaks through the letter of the law revealing its truth and giving true understanding.
Building upon this true understanding Paul writes, “the one who loves another has fulfilled the law…The commandments…are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law…Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions…Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand…We do not live to ourselves and we do not die to ourselves…we are the Lord’s…Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean…The one who thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and has human approval.” Cornelius and the eunuchs were considered unclean by those who thought they knew the law, yet they loved and served God and therefore were included in the Lord’s embrace. So to the homosexual who serves Christ is acceptable to God. The letter of the law kills, the spirit of the law gives life; the letter blinds, the spirit gives sight.
Therefore remember, it is not up to the members of the body to decide who may or may not enter the house. It is not for the foot or the hand, not the belly or the back, to decide who is welcomed and who is not. That decision is up to the Head – who is none other than Jesus Christ. He calls, we respond, and we who respond to the call have no right to exclude another from the house, we have no right to call any other person “profane or unclean”. It is God’s house, not ours; whoever He invites into the Kingdom is His choice, not ours. “For My house shall be a house of prayer for all people.”
© 2007 Halley Low
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