Sometimes the challenge to change seems too difficult and we are tempted to refuse to accept it. If we refuse the challenge, the usual result is that we get stuck and stop growing. This challenge of change and growth happens in all areas of our lives as well as in our faith lives.
Every time I read this passage it reminds me of a phrase: “Change is inevitable; growth is a choice.” As a matter of course, life is strewn with all kinds of challenges to change. All of these challenges have their stresses. Just like Peter and the circumcised believers in Acts 11, we too encounter the occasional challenge to change in our faith lives. These challenges that come to us from God are always calls to real growth. Acts 11 reveals a moment in the Church’s growth full of real stress. Indeed, it could have created the first schism in the Church. But as we see, the people heard the challenge that Peter had experienced and they not only chose to grow, they experienced true joy and wonder in the change that was being presented to them. They saw that the Gentiles, too, were granted the gift of the “repentance that leads to life.” (verse 18)
Sometimes the challenge to change seems too difficult and we are tempted to refuse to accept it. If we refuse the challenge, the usual result is that we get stuck and stop growing. This challenge of change and growth happens in all areas of our lives as well as in our faith lives. Sometimes we get caught up in the minutiae of the law and we lose sight of God. And God will often surprise us with a challenge to growth when we least expect it. Because faith is a living thing, if it stops growing, it begins to die. It is in humility that we are able to see the workings and the wisdom of God. It is in humility that we can turn to God when we are challenged to grow in our faith and say, “Lord I believe; help me overcome my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24)
Our faith, then, is not a static, but a dynamic reality. We did not come into the world with the fullness of faith, or with the fullness of the knowledge of God. Our baptism did not complete us. Rather, it opened for us the door to that narrow path that leads to heaven, that is, the Church, in union with the living Christ. All throughout the scriptures we see God challenging people to grow in their knowledge and their faith in God. Abram becomes Abraham when he chooses to accept the challenge of God to pick up his whole family and move to a “Promised Land” he had never seen before. He is challenged again, in his old age, to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. He chose to believe that God’s wisdom was greater than his and he obeyed. Because of this, God recognized the true depth of Abraham’s faith and rewarded him, saving Isaac and making him the father of many nations. We see this again when God challenges Moses, and the newly freed Jews, to change and to grow time and time again as they wander for forty years in the desert. We see how hard it is for them, and recognize our own frailties in them as well.
Here in the Acts of the Apostles, we see God challenging Peter first, giving him a vision of forbidden, religiously unclean foods, according to the Mosaic Law, and telling him to eat. God gives Peter the vision three times, repeating the pattern with Peter of having to be challenged three times because of his three-fold denial of Jesus on the night Jesus was arrested. God also challenges the circumcised believers here in this passage from Acts to recognize that God cannot be limited, that the apostolic proclamation of salvation was also to be directed to the uncircumcised, the Gentiles. In all of this they were being challenged to grow in their faith and their knowledge of God. And they chose to do that. This new attitude in faith would become the official position of the Church at the “Council” of Jerusalem in Acts 15. Because they chose to grow, the Church grew as well. All of this was the challenge and the working of God. Today, God still challenges each and every one of us to continue our growth in the faith. We are not done yet. There is no limit to our God, therefore, there is no limit to our potential growth in faith.
Lord, help us to be more like little children, humble enough to accept your challenges to us to continue growing in our faith. Help us to see your handiwork in all of creation. Strengthen and encourage us to continue our lifelong efforts to grow in our faith. Help us to translate our continuing growth in faith into all of our words and actions toward others. We pray these things joyfully, filled with our growing faith in your most holy name, Jesus. Amen!
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