Philip now goes “down to Samaria” to preach. For Jews, Jerusalem was held in highest esteem, meaning that one went up when going to Jerusalem, and down when going away in any direction.
Thus, when the “Followers of the Way” – as the early Christians were known – went down from Jerusalem, they left the city to begin their missionary work.
Simon, the Magician and the Ethiopian Eunuch (who are converted by Philip) represent two important elements of becoming a Christian: that God’s gifts cannot be bought, and that baptism washes away all barriers to God.
Saul has headed for Damascus to crush the Christians there. The well-known story of Saul’s conversion experience tells us he fell to the ground, heard the voice of Jesus, and was left blinded by the experience.
The words of Jesus, “Why do you persecute me?” tell us as well as Saul that when we hurt one another, we hurt the God who created us all.
Saul’s blindness indicates not so much a physical blindness, as the blindness of mind and heart that kept him from seeing the truth. The scales falling from his eyes open him to a new heart, a new awareness of the will of God. Saul/Paul, now as strong in belief as he had been in condemnation, experiences the very suffering he had once imposed.
Peter works miracles and baptizes many. His encounter with Cornelius opens his own heart and mind to accept and preach the Good News to the Gentiles.
Seeking the favor of the people, Herod has James killed and Peter imprisoned. When Peter escapes, Herod kills the guards and flees to Caesarea and continues to act as if he were a “god.” His own death makes clear Herod is only human.
Upon reflection …
The conversion of Cornelius gives us two sides of the same story. That is, Cornelius – despite not being a Jew – is shown to be a good, generous, and prayerful man. Because he is open to God’s word, the gift of faith is given to him.
Peter, an Apostle and Jew, is a faithful observer of the Dietary Laws and views other practices as unclean. Peter is unwilling to break from Jewish Law, even to the point of saying to God, “By no means, Lord….”
God gets firm with Peter. “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” God brings the men together.
What might this story mean for us? New ways of thinking, acting and being, are hard. We all have a tendency to be anti-change!
Further, there are always at least 2 sides to any story. We probably only know one! Guess who knows the other stories? 🙂
So, if we really do wish to follow Jesus, it’s best if we listen and learn to stretch our hearts and minds.
Peter is asked to stretch his understanding of belonging to God, and to accept that all who are different from himself are “clean” because God has made them so.
When have you been called upon to stretch your acceptance and understanding of situations or other people?
For closer study:
1. Have you ever felt like Saul, so sure you had the right answer, that you were willing to hurt others to prove it?
2. Simon, the Magician, wants to buy the power of faith. How have you wanted to get things the easy way? Have you wanted credit for something that was God’s doing?
3. How are you like the Ethiopian? What are you searching for in your faith?
4. Have you had a Saul experience, where you were suddenly aware of God’s presence and calling?
5. From what imprisonments have I been freed? What was I freed to do?
Next week: Acts 13—15