The conversion of Cornelius, the centurion, marked a turning-point in the history of the early church. Peter learnt through a vision of animals that he was told to eat, that he must not call anything profane that God has made clean. When he received a message from Cornelius, he realised that the Holy Spirit was initiating change and that the separation of Gentile and Jew was no longer required. When the Holy Spirit descended on the centurion and those around him it was clear that the gentiles would be part of the young church on an equal basis. It would be a difficult journey for the Jewish Christians, who had always thought of themselves set apart as the chosen people. Peter’s statement gave expression to that reality:
“The truth that 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.”
It became clear to Peter and the apostles that they could not bind the gentile Christians to Jewish practices such as circumcision, and that the focus now was not on the Law but the person of Jesus Christ. Friendship with him is the basis of Christian life and the love of our brothers and sisters as he commanded.
“The ground is level at the foot of the cross.” (from the lyrics, by Beverly Lowry, of an old song)