Ready to listen

“Why don’t they ever listen to me?”

What parent hasn’t thought that about their kids, or blurted it out in frustration? The big people are supposed to be smarter and more experienced than the little people, and the little ones are supposed to listen and do what they’re told. Turns out that kids have minds of their own, and push back in ways that exasperate Mom and Dad. Wise parents avoid the shouting match and trust that the kids probably heard more than they let on. Lessons may take time to sink in, and parents must practice abundant patience.

I sometimes wonder if Jesus ever became exasperated with Peter. On the one hand, Peter was a brave and loyal disciple. On the other hand, he had a penchant for going off half-cocked and speaking before thinking. Surely there must have been at least a time or two when Jesus wanted to take Peter’s head in both hands, and say, “Simon, stop. Just stop. Read. My. Lips.” 

But there was a reason Jesus nicknamed him the Rock. He foresaw what Luke has been showing us in the book of Acts. After Pentecost, Peter did indeed live up to his nickname. Sure, he still had things to learn. But I doubt any of us would have learned faster. And when he got it, he got it, and went all in.

As we’ve seen in previous posts, God has been working to get Peter in the same room with a man named Cornelius. They represent very different worlds: one is a Jewish fisherman, the other a Roman centurion; one represents Jesus, King of the Jews, the other represents empire and emperor. The way God has been sending angels and visions to get these men together,  we know something big is about to happen. 

Picking up where we left off: when Cornelius’ men arrive at Peter’s lodgings in Joppa, God tells him to go down to meet them. Peter listens to what they have to say, and invites them to stay the night, despite the fact that they’re Gentiles. In the morning, they set out for Cornelius’ house in Caesarea, with six more believers from Joppa in tow (cf. 11:12). Cornelius, meanwhile, has texted his friends and relatives to come to his house so they can all meet Peter together. 

When Peter finally arrives, Cornelius goes out to meet him and falls at his feet, treating him as if he were some kind of demigod. Fishermen weren’t used to being greeted in this way, and Peter tells Cornelius to stand back up — hurriedly, I would guess, and with some embarrassment. “I’m just a man, like you,” he insists. They begin talking, and enter the house together. 

Peter probably wasn’t expecting a crowd. Imagine the scene. Cornelius has told all these people about his conversation with a dazzlingly glowing angel, and invited them to hear from a man of God. They may already have heard the gospel in some form. They live in Caesarea, where Philip the evangelist now lives — and Philip, as we have seen, is no slouch when it comes to spreading the word.

Peter thus arrives to rock-star status. But he has no idea why he’s there, no prepared speech (those of you with a fear of public speaking may be getting hives just thinking about it). So he opens with this: “You all know that I’m a Jew and it’s not lawful for me to be here under a Gentile’s roof — but God has shown me that I shouldn’t call anyone unclean.”

That might not sound like the most ideal beginning: “Normally, I’d consider myself contaminated for just being here, but God told me to keep an open mind.” But he’s not telling them anything they don’t already know, not if Cornelius is a God-fearer. To Cornelius, hearing that God himself has told Peter to not call anyone unclean might sound like a wide-open door.

“So,” Peter continues, “here I am. I’ve come as asked, without objection. Now can someone tell me what this is all about?”

Cornelius responds by telling Peter about his visit from the angel. Peter’s already heard the story in outline from Cornelius’ servants, and now gets some of the more vivid details. “So I sent for you right away, and you’ve been kind enough to come,” Cornelius says, winding up. Then, the clincher: “So now all of us are here in the presence of God to listen to all that the Lord has commanded you to say” (Acts 10:33, NRSV). 

Cornelius shuts up, and everyone stares at Peter, waiting for pearls of divine wisdom to fall from his lips. They are ready to listen.

No pressure.

Thankfully, Peter is also in a listening posture. He has been since the vision, despite the fact that it needed to be given to him three times. He showed that he was already learning the lesson when he invited Cornelius’ men to stay the night, when he came with them to Caesarea, and when he told these people that God had told him not to call people unclean, even though the vision had to do with unclean food.

And because Peter is listening, he recognizes this moment for what it is. More on that in the next post.