The main driving force in Luke’s narrative about the early Christian community is the sweeping power of the Holy Spirit. The further through Acts we get, the further away from Jerusalem we move geographically, as the narrative finally ends with Paul preaching in Rome. From the beginning of Acts, it’s clear that the focus of the apostles is beyond the Jewish people, particularly in Jesus’ last command to the apostles – that they were to go out to all nations. At Pentecost, the Spirit descends on the apostles, not just to give them power, but to empower all people to go out and preach the Good News. While it’s clear that there is a struggle in the early Christian community about the extent to which they were to go to everyone. By Chapter 9, the narrative of Acts is entirely dominated by this mission to the Gentiles. As you listen to Peter preaching in the house of Cornelius, ask yourself how, and with whom you share the Gospel.
Peter said, ‘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. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 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.’ While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, ‘Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’ So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.
Peter preaches to the Gentiles in a way that we often associate with Paul, who was often known as the apostle to the Gentiles. But from this point onwards in Acts, the narrative follows the apostles preaching to the gentiles across the Mediterranean. For a moment, try and imagine how the apostles would have felt as they made their journey out into the wider world.
This reading comes with a very clear message – God does not show partiality in preaching the Gospel. The Good News does not belong to one group over another, but is something that has to be preached to all. What partiality can you see in your own life in how you preach the Good News?
Pope Francis calls us to be missionary disciples – to be like the apostles, going out to prepare other people to pass on the Good News. Speak to the Lord about what that call to missionary discipleship means for you in your own life.