As Peter reached the house Cornelius went out to meet him, knelt at his feet and prostrated himself. But Peter helped him up. ‘Stand up,’ he said ‘I am only a man after all!’
Then Peter addressed them: ‘The truth I have now come to realise’ he said ‘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.’
While Peter was still speaking the Holy Spirit came down on all the listeners. Jewish believers who had accompanied Peter were all astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit should be poured out on the pagans too, since they could hear them speaking strange languages and proclaiming the greatness of God. Peter himself then said, ‘Could anyone refuse the water of baptism to these people, now they have received the Holy Spirit just as much as we have?’ He then gave orders for them to be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ. Afterwards they begged him to stay on for some days.
God has no favourites. Not Israelites, not pagans. Not those of faith, nor those who lack faith. God loves all, and has no favourites.
It is not that who and how we are don’t matter. Some people are saints and some are sinners through and through. And that matters. Some have made great use of their gifts for their own development and the development of others, and that matters. Though none of it stops God loving us.
But what matters most of all is not where we have got to but where we are are today, as we start today. God’s interest is on the trajectory we now follow, much, much more than where we have come from. We may have achieved much in the past, but what is most important is what, with God on our side, and helping, we achieve today. What we achieve may not seem much, not to others, maybe not even to us, but it seems it delights and satisfies God. His love gets a result!
The ‘unfair’ parables – such as that of the labourers in the vineyard and the unjust steward – make this uncomfortable point again and again. You cannot accumulate points to guarantee you salvation. Yesterday may have taught you some great lessons that will benefit you today, but we either respond to God’s offer of love – to us and to others – today or we don’t. We either present ourselves as fit for the kingdom or we don’t.
Religious observance counts for very little in all this (though it should help us to openness of mind and heart about all of this!) God’s love is freely given – we need to respond to it, and we need to avoid getting in the way of others as they too strive, even struggle, to respond to it.
Peterborough Cathedral. The flooring around the font suggests the saving waters overflowing the stone container, beginning to flood the world with a sign of God’s grace. (c)2011, Allen Morris.