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Extremists could learn much from Peter's story


The apostle Peter was brought up to believe that the nation to which he belonged, Israel, was God's favourite.

All others counted for nothing in God's plan. The gentiles were outside God's mercy. The pagans were excluded from God's loving embrace.

Being God's chosen people unfortunately went to their heads. It led to a spiritual arrogance and pride, a lack of that humility which must characterise God's true children.

Israel became possessed of a religious supremacism and elitism. They lost sight of their servanthood and they forgot that, through them, God intended to extend His salvation to the ends of the Earth (Isaiah 49:6).

Peter had imbibed this false superiority and needed deliverance from it by God's grace. Deliverance came to him in a pagan's house. In the home of the Roman centurion, Cornelius, God opened Peter's eyes in a further conversion of his heart.

It was in Cornelius' house that Peter made this declaration: "The truth I have now come to realise is that God does not have favourites, but that anybody of any nationality who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to him (Acts 10:34-35)."

Peter's life was a series of conversions: his initial calling; his being reprimanded by the Lord for being an "obstacle"; his repentance for his threefold denial of Jesus; and now we have this further deepening in him of the divine truth as he leaves behind him the sectarianism in which he had been brought up.

Here, in Northern Ireland, there are many 'religious' people who could learn much from reflection upon Peter's journey, the truth that he came to realise, how God led him to deeper awareness and enlightenment.

In the past week, a minister of a Protestant Church described the central act of worship of his fellow Christians in the Catholic Church as "evil". There is no deeper spiritual blindness than that. The Lord Jesus said of this spiritual malady, "for if the light in you be darkness, how great is that darkness (Matthew 6:23)".

There are some extremist Protestants who think that Catholics are not Christians. Not true. Catholics were once under the impression that Protestants can't go to Heaven. Not true. All of this divisiveness and self-righteousness stems from sinful, unconverted hearts. We too need the truth that St Peter came to realise in 'pagan' Cornelius' house - God does not have favourites.

The sectarianising of the Gospel is grotesque. The exaltation of one's own 'theological' notions and marketing them as if they were the gospel is a perverse act of human pride.

The Lord has commanded us to "love one another, as I have loved you" (John 15:12). And yet, still, there are those so deluded by their pride that they believe it is loving to offer hideous insults to their fellow Christians.

How great is the darkness that is in those who twist the truth to promote their own askew version of reality. The antidote to this poison is humility - the humility shown by Peter in the house of the gentile, Cornelius.

The suppositions and prejudices of Peter's background were levelled by God's truth.

The Lord opened his eyes and peeled away another layer of dross from his heart. Our society needs similar conversions. Most especially of the 'religious', the 'righteous' and the 'saved'.

Lord, open our eyes to the truth written in the lives of every human being created in your image and likeness and deliver us from the darkness of that smug supremacism which is total illusion.

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