Last week we heard Jesus teach of the vine and the branches and how God the vine dresser prunes the branches to increase their yield and how He removes completely the branches which remain unproductive. Today we hear that teaching continued.
Our first reading today takes place several years after Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection – after Saul’s conversion (last week’s reading). The conversion of the pagan Cornelius is one of the high points of the Acts of the Apostles. Cornelius was the centurion in command of the Italian cohort stationed at Caesarea. He was a proselyte (one who approaches) of the type called “those who fear God,” who accepted the Jewish Law but did not become full members of the Jewish community by circumcision.
Cornelius’ conversion is an extremely important event because it demonstrates the fact that the Gospel is addressed to all men and shows that the power of the Holy Spirit knows no limits. Up to this point the Gospel has been preached only to Jews. Its extension to the Samaritans was seen as an announcement of salvation to people who had at one time formed part of the Chosen People. By preaching only to Jews, the disciples were having regard to the fact that the people of Israel were the only people chosen by God to be bearers of the divine promises – therefore they had a right to be the first to receive the definitive message of salvation. Our Lord Himself had acted on this principle and had told His disciples to preach only “to the lost sheep of Israel” (Matthew 10:6).
Now God steps in to make Peter realize that the Good News is meant for all – it is His desire that all men be saved and therefore the Christians need to shed the narrow ideas of Judaism as regards the scope of salvation and proclaim the Good News to the ends of the earth; to all people in all lands.