An interesting place – but why?

An amazing miracle in Joppa with Dorcas raised from the dead and ‘This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord’ (Acts 9:42).

Peter stays on in Joppa (modern day Tel Aviv) and Luke repeatedly tells us it is with ‘a certain Simon, a tanner’. It is here he has his vision of the sheet full of unclean animals coming down which eventually propels him (semi-reluctantly?) to make his journey to Cornelius’ house, where he makes his introduction with:

You yourselves know that it is improper for a Jew to associate with or to visit an outsider, but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.

A radical conversion for sure… but a) he has been in Joppa, the very place that Jonah left from so that he might not go to the ‘other’, the Ninevites, so Peter would have that narrative in mind, Joppa the place where in obedience to God we go to those we once thought were unclean; b) he is staying with Simon a Gentile (possibly a Jew, but handling dead animal carcases?), so is already visiting ‘associating and visiting an outsider’; c) as a tanner Simon is working with dead animals so Peter is staying with someone ‘profane and unclean’.

The vision comes and Peter interprets it as a test and holds firm to his tradition / convictions, with a strong ‘never have I…’

All seems strange to me, but illustrates that we are out of the box in Joppa, staying with an unclean Gentile, thinking we are doing so well, but there is further to go… Three people knocking on the door for us to respond to, waiting for us to come down from our place of revelation to connect.

Scripture is full of annoying narratives that don’t help us work out how we are to respond.

The house is burning?

When I come to the chapter on Cornelius in our book zooms we look at the obvious, is it about Cornelius’ one off conversion to Jesus, or is it about yet another conversion of Peter (us)? Seems to be about both. In that chapter, of course, is also raised the question of ‘salvation’. A challenging word for we have reduced it to mean ‘getting our ticket’, whereas in Scripture it is very concrete. ‘You have saved me from my enemies’ did not have anything to do with ‘eternity’ but everything to do with the here and now. ‘Save yourself from this perverse generation’ is in line with this. Certainly there is not a great emphasis on ‘saved from (future) fire’ though one could pull a few texts that way, with a big twist and pull. The emphasis is from ‘powers’ that enslave and for ‘purpose’ that restores.

The chapter sits before the one on ‘witness’ which I contrast with what is often labelled evangelism. A big question how we approach all this I liken to our consideration of the situation that people find themselves in. If they are all (analogy following) sitting inside a building feeling safe but we know that the building is on fire and they are existentially in grave danger then an appropriate response will be to run in the building and shout at them, provoke them, warn them to get out, informing them that there is a fire exit that they have to run to. The fire exit of course being the cross of Jesus, and due to the urgency there is no value in developing relationships, nor wasting our time with those who really do not believe our good news story. Leave them, get the next person out. Persuade them even if they struggle to believe you, cos they’ll thank you later.

The burning building scenario.

Maybe the building is not now burning but will catch fire at any moment, there is an imminent fire. Maybe then we can operate a little slower, nevertheless the scenario is pretty much the same.

I do not believe such an approach merits the name ‘evangelism’ and I seriously question whether it comes close to what Paul was up to in the Imperial context, or what he hoped the various ekklesiai would get up to.

What if the ‘burning building’ scene is more something we have created than a reality, and that our job in faithful witnessing is to introduce people to Jesus (through what they observe in us and through our conversations) thus giving them an opportunity to meet the bridge between the Father and humanity. What a privilege and how much good news is located in that connection. Not presenting a set of facts, but a Person not so that they can then meet God (as if Jesus was the way to God) but so that they might come to rest in the intimacy of love. That love that was already present. And in that encounter discovering that whatever gap (and it is a huge one!) there is between the divine and the human that there is both an inspiration and an empowerment to become who I was meant to be because the joining of human and divine in Jesus closed those gaps.

Beliefs. So essential as they shape us. The world is indeed condemned, but the people?

In spite of a sneaky suspicion that God might just turn out to be a Universalist, I am not. But the burning building just does not stack up.

I wonder if Jesus prayer to the Father was answered? ‘Forgive them…’ Maybe he should have prayed as we do, ‘lead them to repentance, so that you can forgive them’. Just a thought.