Who Are You Calling Unclean?
Note this: When Peter approaches Cornelius, he does not ask, “Excuse me. Would you mind if I asked you a couple of questions for a survey?” Nor does he ask, “If you were to die tonight, do you know for certain whether you’d go to heaven or hell?” He didn’t ask him if he considered himself a good person. He didn’t accost him on a beach boardwalk and ask him to recite a few of the 10 Commandments. He didn’t sketch a diagram in the dirt or show him a filmstrip. He didn’t do any of the things most of us were taught to do in the personal evangelism classes churches used to offer.
Here’s what he did: “Talking with him, Peter went inside” (Acts 10:27).
You know what I think the most important word in that sentence is? “With”. Peter didn’t talk at Cornelius; he talked with him.
Also, notice the very first word. It’s not “preaching”; it’s “talking”. There’s a conversation going on here. Both parties are involved in the give and take of ideas. This isn’t a monologue or a sermon or even a lesson. Peter does not have a script. Real conversations are never scripted.
Peter made no pretense of being in a superior position. There was one person in the superior position here; that person was Jesus. Peter knew that both he and Cornelius were on equal footing because, as your pastor may have told you on multiple occasions, the ground is level at the foot of the cross.
Peter had made some terrible choices. He remembered them, but he didn’t let his feelings of unworthiness stop him from following God’s lead. We too have made some terrible choices. It’s when we forget we have that we end up acting like fools. Peter never forgot his mistakes, never forgot what he’d done that Jesus had forgiven. That’s probably how he was able to take such an inclusive stance here.
And why did Peter take such a radical approach? He tells us in the very next verse: “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean.”
Fascinating, isn’t it? Peter refused to call Cornelius unclean or impure. Christians today can’t seem to help themselves. We’ll call other Christians impure and unclean. You don’t want to know what we’ll call people who don’t go to church and don’t believe what we believe. It’s downright shameful.
The truth is, everyone is impure and unclean – Jew and Gentile, Christian and non-Christian. But no one is so impure or unclean that they get automatically disqualified. Not atheists. Not abortionists. Not Jon Stewart. Not Glenn Beck. Not Jerry Sandusky. Not President Barack Obama. Not Newt Gingrich. Not feminists. Not AIDS patients. Not Muslims. Not you. Not your non-church-going neighbor.
No one gets called unclean or impure anymore.