When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. Galatians 2:11-13 (NIV).
Let’s not judge Peter too harshly because, you and me, we’re Peter. We’ve given in to our fears, our temptations, our shortcomings. Sometimes, in dealing with people, we make mistakes.
That’s what Peter had done. Peter, the former Jew, the Rock on which Jesus promised to build His church, got caught up in going wobbly. Peter (Cephas) had spent his entire life in Judaism, and it was hard to give up old ways, especially in the confusing time after Jesus ascended to Heaven. The church was ‘forming, norming, storming, and performing’ (to borrow from Bruce Tuckman). Doctrines were being revealed; practices were being adopted. People were figuring out where God would lead them in following the Way of Jesus, in building that church Peter led to carry out Jesus’ ongoing mission.
That included how to deal with non-Jews. For Jews, to be non-Jewish – to be Gentile – was a contemptible thing. You weren’t part of God’s promise; you weren’t a chosen member of the descendants of Abraham. You didn’t learn the laws God revealed to Moses and the prophets; you didn’t share in the religious, cultural, and racial splendor that was the history of God’s chosen people. God didn’t promise a Messiah to save you.
Except He did. Jesus upended the whole definition of what it meant to be God’s people. Jesus came to carry God’s promise of eternal salvation to Jews and Gentiles alike; to everyone. That didn’t sit well with the traditionalists, and it meant that Peter and the followers he led had to figure out how to navigate. This included something as simple as a meal. Jews wouldn’t eat with ceremonially unclean Gentiles, but Peter did…and then he didn’t. He wavered and wobbled. It took God and Paul to convince him that all people were God’s children.
Let’s not judge Peter too harshly. Do you or I look down on folks who don’t believe what we do? Do we hold our status over them? Do we act like we’re part of an exclusive club? You know in your heart we sometimes do. Thank God, then, that He has a merciful, patient heart which we sometimes don’t model well. Just like Peter.
For further reading: Acts 4:36, Acts 10:45, Acts 11:2-3, Acts 15:13, Galatians 2:11
Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner. I judge people; I make mistakes. Teach me to apologize, to make amends, to forgive, and to move forward in Your truths.
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