Sunday, June 17, 2012

Acts, Chapter 10: Circumcision is not the answer

Cornelius is a Roman centurion living in Caesarea. He and his family are very devout. One day, at the oddly specific time of nine o'clock, he hears the voice of god saying that his prayers and alms have been selected as that day's offering, like a first-century post code lottery. Only instead of a new car or swimming pool or something, his reward is that he gets to send to Joppa (Jaffa today) for Simon Peter, currently residing with Simon the Tanner, who will tell him what to do. God I hate riddles. Why can't god just tell him what to do right now? Why does he have to send someone all the way to Joppa? I smell plot contrivance.

Anyway, Cornelius is either too lazy or too busy to go to Joppa himself, so he sends some servants along. As they approach the city, Peter goes up onto a roof. He's hungry, but as his breakfast is being prepared, he falls into a trance. His hunger visions start off with a Magic Carpet being ridden by all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air (v. 12). God tells him Rise, Peter; kill, and eat (v. 13). Peter initially refuses, because he's still a good Jew and many of the animals in this cornucopia are forbidden by Leviticus. God rebukes him, saying everything he makes is clean, but Peter continues to refuse, until the magic carpet is re-levitated back to heaven. Peter doesn't understand what this hunger fantasy means, but he doesn't have time to think about it, because Cornelius' slaves have arrived at the gate. The holy spirit tells him to go and answer, because they've been sent by god. 

Peter lets them in, and the next day they head back to Caesarea. When they arrive, Cornelius bows down to worship him, but Peter briskly nips it in the bud. He's his usual arrogant self, saying he'd never normally go into a gentile's house, but he's making an exception because of what god said up on that rooftop when he was starving. But he doesn't actually know what Cornelius wants. Cornelius informs him that he was also fasting a few days ago when a man in shiny clothing appeared. Does anyone see a pattern here of hunger leading to weird hallucinations? Anyway, Cornelius repeats the story and turns the question about why he's here back on Peter. Peter proclaims this incident as a sign of how god shows no favouritism, he accepts people from any ethnic background. He reminds us of the entire Jesus story, at one point using the expression quick and dead (v. 42), which I always thought meant people who could draw their guns fast, not the living versus the dead, which is what that expression really means. Live and learn.

As he's speaking, the holy spirit possesses everyone in the room, much to the astonishment of the circumcised men who came with Peter. Yes, the bible really does divide you up based on what the tip of your penis looks like. No it doesn't care if you don't have a penis. Anyway, these men are amazed that even gentiles can receive the word and speak in tongues. They ask Peter to baptise them, and to stay awhile. And so begins the conversion of the gentiles as well as the Jews.

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