One of my favorite characters in the New Testament is Peter. Relatable and real. Today’s reading in Acts highlights one of the most powerful witness accounts in the whole Bible. Peter, who just a few chapters before (Luke-Acts) was a pretty pitiful disciple, is now speaking like a champ. He states that it is not Peter and John who did these great works, but the God of Abraham and Isaac who has glorified his servant Jesus.
Peter points the finger of blame, declaring that this Jesus was handed over to Pilate, “But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead.” He knows they acted in ignorance, but now demands that they repent and turn to God so that their sins may be wiped away.
This must have been quite a confession! Some of the folks Peter is speaking to were perhaps the actual Sanhedrin who were in the room when they judged Jesus. Talk about a guilt complex! Pretty gutsy for one who just a few chapters earlier had the fingers of blame pointed at him. And Jesus responded by forgiving him. The same is true here in Acts.
I get tired of folks who boil down a “repentance of sins” to simply a list of things you have done wrong in your life. The implication is that if you get a complete list, your slate is clean and you are “right with God” again.
Peter demands so much more. An accounting of the offense is only a beginning. He, like Jesus, wants a complete turnaround. There is also an element of this as Peter speaks to this crowd. To repent is to acknowledge a failure of the human condition. This is why we do a corporate confession of forgiveness every week in a Presbyterian Church, not just at our baptism, and it is a time for the community to say, “We helped crucify Jesus, and we are still doing it! Help us be better, God!”
I find it interesting that Peter demands this repentance in the context of healing a crippled beggar, who would have been understood by the theology of the time that this cripple had committed great sin, which led to his condition. He didn’t ask to be healed. He asked for alms. Peter and John asked that he look at them, and he was healed.
I think about the healings at the center of Jesus life, which often had the same radical love – love spilled out without solicitation. His inclusion and welcome of those who were broken and cast out was unmatched. It is this radical hospitality that is one of the great themes of the gospels, now highlighted in Acts as something we are to do and carry on.
And when we come to the table, we come welcomed by our savior as well. We are invited to turn from our fallen ways, refreshed and renewed by the very body and blood of Christ.
Be like Peter and speak those powerful words of love and acceptance to anyone you meet.