Acts 1: 6-8 (RSV)
6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8 But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samar′ia and to the end of the earth.”
The Book of Acts is the chief historical book of the New Testament. Just as the historical books of the Old Testament detail the history of the Nation of Israel post-Pentateuch or the five books of Moses, Acts describes the work of the apostles after the Gospels.
Before Jesus’ Ascension to sit at the right hand of God, he commanded his disciples to not remain in the tiny section of the continent but carry the Gospel to the known world. If the apostles and the followers of Jesus paid attention to the arrival of the Messiah, they would’ve understood that what Jesus mission wasn’t strictly for the Jews but for the Gentiles (Matt 8:11; Luke 2:32). The Twelve would stay put briefly to preach to the Jews but to carry out the larger mission of the Church, they had to spread out.
This anticipation of engrafting the Gentiles finally was consummated in Acts 10 when Peter and Cornelius, a pious centurion, both received visions that would catapult the Church into a new period.
From an angel, Cornelius received instructions to find Peter. On the other hand, Peter saw various four-footed animals such as beasts and insects. And a voice came to him three times and said, “Rise, Peter, kill and eat” but Peter refused because eating these animals was prohibited by Jewish food laws, yet the voice said declared that all foods are permissible. Three times this vision happened to Peter.
Little did he know this vision contained a central message to Peter, a devout Jew: A people once foreign to God, unclean to the Jews, would now have the opportunity to be declared co-heirs with the Jews to the Kingdom. When Peter and Cornelius finally meet each other, Peter understands the deeper message of the revelations he received: that Christ’s church makes all mankind, regardless of ethnicity or covenant with God, partakers of his divine kingdom. As a result, Peter is the first to spread the Gospel to Gentiles.
In a previous entry, I wrote about how Peter is definitely noticeable as the distinguished apostle Jesus picked to be the shepherd of his flock. Using this description from Acts, as the chief shepherd of the flock, we can see how he had a special position as the chief apostle and leader of the early church. Using the fisher of men reference assigned to Peter by Jesus (Luke 5:10; John 21:11), it’s Peter who is the preeminent trawler that collects the fish (people) and brings them into the boat (Church). He does this first during Pentecost, the inception of the Church with Jewish believers, and with gentiles through Cornelius. It’s through Peter’s preaching and apostolic mission that the Church is literally built on fulfilling Matthew 16:18.
The mission commissioned to Peter conveys the catholic mission of the church. This defining mark shows that Jesus’ institution of a unitive body was commissioned globally (Matthew 28:19) which means that the Church is universal, at all times, in its embrace to reconcile mankind to God. This catholicity was true in 50 A.D when the apostles preached with authority and commissioned successors and today with their modern successors, the bishops.
Moreover, it’s interesting how Christianity toppled the Roman Empire in a little under 300 years. From the witness of the martyrs, bold faith of the those in house churches and secret places, and strong orthodox theologians and clergy, it’s no surprise that Christianity eventually secured religious protections within the Empire. From these basic rights, the religion spread over two thousand years by marvelous missionaries!
We may think the whole world has heard the saving mission of Christ’s Church, but we would be alarmed to know that many communities globally are unreached. In keeping with Peter, the Church has work to do in this area with bringing those once displaced into communion with God.
As the priest says during one of the Eucharistic prayers during Mass: By the power and working of the Holy Spirit, you give life to all things and make them holy, and you never cease to gather a people to yourself. Yes, God never ceases at calling out from all corners mankind back to him. I’m thankful for the continued apostolic mission of the Church!