top of page

The Conversion of Cornelius (Acts 10)

The Sixth Sunday of Easter B(2018/24)                                                                          Boarbank Hall

                                                       The Conversion of Cornelius (Acts 10)

With the conversion of the Gentile Cornelius Peter is faced with a massive dilemma. This centurion declares his complete acceptance of the Christian faith in Jesus. Should he now be forced to observe also the Jewish traditions of circumcision, ritual laws and dietary prescriptions- and would he be allowed to eat at the same table with the Jewish Christian converts?  According to the account in the Acts of the Apostles it took a special intervention from heaven to convince Peter that a new day had dawned, and that Gentile Christians were not bound by ritualistic Jewish traditions. No reference is made to this by the convert Jews who later pressurised Paul’s Gentile converts to change, insisting that Paul was wrong, and that all Christian converts had to observe Jewish laws.

Implications Then

Those Jews feared that if their Law were changed to accommodate the Gentile converts ethnic Jews would cease to be the People of God with all its promises. They might also lose their privileged status in the Roman empire and be forced to obey the Roman practices they detested, including emperor worship. Paul and his missionary companions knew that there was little chance of evangelising the Gentiles if it meant insisting they became Jews. Eventually at the Council of Jerusalem all accepted that the convert Gentiles were completely free of Jewish customs as traditionally interpreted. To accept Christ was sheer grace, a gratuitous gift from heaven, and that was the way to salvation for all. However it took a long time for this to be universally accepted by Jewish converts if it ever was. 

The Johannine Situation

In today’s readings from the First Epistle of St John and from the Fourth Gospel the accent falls upon the need for all Christians to live lovingly in community. There were real divisions in those communities. Those Jewish converts who still went to the synagogue because of professing faith in Christ and were now unacceptable in the the synagogue (Cf. Jn 9:22). They were taken as blasphemous and, persecuted because they professed Jesus as the Messiah and God’s Son.  To be ousted from the synagogue meant losing all its benefits, social and financial and all the social security it provided. Add to that the new difficulties that cropped up in the Johannine communities themselves, as to how best to solve authority problems, how to find the right language to express their faith, and how to live with what could be taken as tolerable differences- such demanded a lot of love. Despite all the exhortations there were real divisions among these believers and we do not know that they were healed. These are recorded in the three Johannine epistles and alluded to in the Gospel (9:22 etc.).  We see similar problems in the communities founded by St. Paul because of pressures to accept the Jewish Law. He even called his Galatians ‘stupid’ (3:1) as some of them accepted the Jewish Law as salvific. Paul could write beautifully about love (Cf. 1 Cor 13), but he also could write with sarcasm and anger. After all he was only human!

Implications For Today

We should not be surprised in our own time to find divisions in the Catholic household of the faith.  We read of them constantly in the media. We know that people get very upset at the way Mass is or is not celebrated. We hear many criticisms of the way catechetics are or are not taught.  We read of acerbic exchanges about how to deal with situations involving grave decisions on marriage, ecumenical relationships, amalgamations and closures of parishes, and on moral and social issues.  How should one deal with alien political regimes?  These questions are major and people respond to them differently in the same community. Attentive to our Scripture readings we should not be surprised at the legitimate differences of opinion on such matters. But we should certainly try to acknowledge these differences with respect and tolerance. 


Most of us have preferences in our religious observances.  When we are comfortable with them, and share them with others consistently, there seems no good reason to change them. One of the most unhelpful aspects of modern bureaucracy is the constant chopping and changing of things. Much of it involves filling out reports, checking boxes, seemingly remote  from the work we were trained to do. Parents are told how to deal with their children, how we ought to relate with students when we are teachers, with our patients when we are doctors, with the faithful when we are priests, and so on. 

Over-regimentation is as bad as casual indifference or sloppy perfunctory performances. Both deny true freedom. Reverence and respect and affection all round are always called for and always appreciated.  Surely that is love in practice. Unity and pluralism are safeguarded this way. Introducing the Second Vatican Council Pope John XXIII asked for unity in essentials, freedom in things doubtful and charity in everything. But of course the question is what is essential and what is doubtful and who decides.  The creed is the guide: I believe in one, holy, catholsic and apostolic Church- fundamental in unity and rich in diversity. Legitimate questions remain but the attitude is right.

Synodality is now recommended at all levels- to know how to share, listen and understand in community. It all takes time. We are only at the beginning of the process but experience is always a major factor in a developing process. Celebrating the Eucharist together is foundational for living the faith. That is why we are here Sunday by Sunday. Amen.

Rev. Richard J.Taylor

Spiritual Advisor, MaterCare International

8 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page