October 2019: Lectio Divina

Lectio Divina (Acts 10:1–11:18)
Being Transformed by Mission

Lectio: What the Word says in itself
The story of the centurion Cornelius marks a dramatic turning point in the missionary orientation of the early Christian church. Should we look inwards or outwards?

In Acts 10:1-8, Cornelius is carefully introduced. Then follows the famous tale of Peter’s dream (vv. 9-16), in which God shows him, by means of a vision and its contraption, that no food is unclean. The link between these two scenes is then made (vv. 17-23), leading to the encounter between the two protagonists (vv. 24-48). A final moment occurs in Peter’s report in Jerusalem, Acts 11:1-18. This is a story of conversion, but who is being converted?

The issue at stake is not infrequent in the New Testament: how much of the Old Testament Law should be retained, especially in regard to the great identity markers of Judaism – circumcision, Sabbath observance and the dietary laws? This topic, in different guises, is found in Mark 7 (and parallels), the Sermon on the Mount, Romans, Galatians and Acts. Given this intense discussion, it may be safely concluded that Jesus (pace Mark 7) left no clear teaching. Insistence on the full range of identity markers would have adversely modified the universal appeal of the Good News.

Meditatio: What the Word says to me/us
The modern desire to be inclusive is anticipated in the experience and texts of the early church. This challenge continues in our experience today, both as a society and as church. As a society, we wonder how to integrate immigrants and refugees, the ‘new Irish.’ This is a social, political and economic challenge. More narrowly, the community of faith struggles with internal differences and external boundaries. Often, we find ourselves saying that it is a broad church – and rightly so, it is a broad church. But the edges can be difficult: what about the divorced and remarried, ex priests, LGBT people, ‘traditionalists,’ ‘radicals’? Even more, the Cornelius story invites us to see the work of the Spirit happening independently of ‘official’ channels.

Oratio: What the Word leads me/us to say
Spirit of the living God, breathe on us again your breath of life that we, disciples of today, may experience and readily recognize your life-giving surprises. Help us to see you in places and people we do not expect. By your grace, may we know what to hold on to and what to let go of. Pour out on us once more the vigour and excitement of Pentecost, so that we may bring the Good News to life in our time.

Contemplatio: Being transformed by the Word
Who is most transformed by the word of God? Here, it seems clear that while ostensibly Cornelius is the convert, the real convert is Peter, who is brought to realize that God has no favourites. Himself converted to this new vision, Peter then convinces the community as a whole. In his Gospel, Luke had already anticipated the inclusivity, in his extended version of Jesus’ preaching in Nazareth (Lk 4:16-30). In Luke’s symbolic expansion of the preaching in Nazareth, it is precisely the issue of Gentiles, symbolised by the Elijah and Elisha anecdotes, that provokes the negative reaction. That openness to all the nations was signalled even earlier, in the genealogy going back to Adam (3:23- 38). The Church is not simply a community of those who seek to transform others or the world. It is above all a community transformed by its own missionary efforts. The best way to be transformed by the Word is to seek to bring it to others, to be a missionary.

Actio: Putting the Word into practice
1. The universality of Peter’s vision in vv. 34-35 can still astonish and, even more, be demanding to put into practice. On my own journey, when did the same insight dawn on me and what were the consequences?

2. Not for the last time, the Holy Spirit is ahead of the church. In our own lives, it is only on looking back that we can see just how much the Spirit was active and ‘ahead.’ Can I name some personal instances?

3. Peter’s question resembles one often heard today: what would Jesus do? It arises when a tension is felt between law and Gospel, between regulation and what seems to be right. Bringing such dilemmas into prayerful discernment is the only way forward.

4. A community closed in on itself, lacking any outward direction, is a contradiction. Is my faith community actively aware that we exist to bring the Word of life to the world around us?

Kieran J. O’Mahony, OSA
Coordinator of Biblical
Studies for the
Archdiocese of Dublin