"…who was I to be able to hinder God?"
"No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own."
It seems to me that, underlying everything, we have one important choice to make that will inform almost everything that comes after.
We have the choice, and it is a choice born of our free will, to surrender our will in order to be present to the will of God, or we can choose to negate God’s power in favor of our own, thereby closing the door to the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the invitation to be part of something infinitely greater than anything our own self could create.
It takes a leap of faith and a leap of imagination to choose to surrender one’s given or chosen identity and beliefs; all those "markers" that make us feel a part of our tribe. Reflecting on the first reading, I conjure up the group I can least imagine as being a part of my "inner circle." It makes me squirm. This is how the Apostles-faithful Jewish men-must have felt to see their beloved but fledgling commitment to Jesus being shared by the Gentiles, the strange, even "unclean" other.
In the reading, Peter goes into great detail about how he came to share a meal, perhaps a humble bit of bread and wine, with the Gentiles, and then says, so simply, of this act that will help to usher in a momentous evolution in Christianity whose reverberation will echo down through the ages, "…who was I to be able to hinder God?"
Just as Jesus had taught him, Peter was serving as the good shepherd. With a mind perhaps threatened by terrible uncertainty, Peter lays down his own will faithfully despite all the preconceived notions, fears of change, and understandable concerns challenging the new followers of Jesus. Peter sacrifices his will to God’s so that the Gentiles, too, might know the life-giving repentance of the belief in Christ. Peter is tending to this new kind of far-reaching flock, a flock that is destined to grow and be inclusive, not turn inward and exclude.
We live, today, among so many "others," out in the world and inside our hearts. It can be dizzying, frightening, exhausting. It takes faith to let go of a notion of ourselves that we have been clinging to or a notion of someone else that seems to feel so right and even righteous. But who am I to hinder God? Who am I to block the sweep of history toward the good or the glory of God revealed intimately in my own life? Who am I to do that? My greatest power lies in my willingness to surrender, to show up, to try and hear God’s voice in me, in you, and in the world. It is my choice in the end, however, to let go, and, as the phrase so aptly says, let God.
Nancy Nickel is director of marketing and communications at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.