It is hard to imagine a person in a more conflicted situation than Cornelius in Acts 10. The senators in imperial Rome could argue the affairs of empire, but it was the Roman legions that enforced the policies. The pax romana (Roman peace) was the result of heavy hand of the military. At the heart of the military were the centurions. They swore allegiance to the Roman Emperor that turned out to have the morality of Caligula or Nero, yet they had to have personal integrity and be highly moral. They waged war and carried out crucifixions, yet needed to be able to establish workable relationships with the people they conquered.

There were times no doubt when duty demanded Cornelius to be cruel, yet at his heart he longed for peace. He was an earnest seeker of God. He served the interests of Rome among a people constantly in rebellion against it. While he had to hold the dignity of his office and keep the peace demanded by his government, he greatly respected and wanted to learn more of the religion of the people he helped govern.

I think he could easily identify with many Americans today. It is one thing to see the vision and promise of what a nation could be that is founded on certain principles and guarantees certain freedoms and equalities for all. It is quite another to see the sores that infest the nation and to deal with them personally with the blood and dirt on your hands. Add to this the realization that the solutions that come from the upper echelons of government are not workable, and when they are enforced cause only more and greater problems.

Can one who holds a position of authority learn to listen to those under that authority? Is it possible that the solution to problems might come from the ones who suffer from them? In both practical and theological terms, can God speak through the lowly and unlearned, the subjugated and the oppressed?

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