Don’t go there. How often do we use that phrase? Don’t go there. It’s handy, it’s definite. I use it; you’ve probably heard me use it. It’s a way to keeping a boundary; a way of keeping privacy that you need to have. The implication is that if you go there, you’re in trouble, you’ve opened a can of worms, someone will come out with a load of pain that you may not be able to handle, or if they push you, you may unload a bunch of emotions that you’d rather not and go beyond your control. Don’t go there. Stay in control.
Peter is going out of control in the portion of Acts that we’ve read from today. He is in Joppa, the seaport of Jerusalem. It’s a place where different people of different cultures come together, however, Jewish people weren’t supposed to be in much contact with people of other cultures. They had contact in the marketplace or in public forums. Jews were supposed to keep apart, particularly if they were to keep ritually clean.
But Peter had a vision where all of the animals in the world were gathered, and a voice from heaven said: “kill and eat.” Peter had objected because there were unclean animals there, but the voice had said: “what I have declared clean you are not to call unclean.” Right after this, he was invited to Cornelius’ house: a man who admired Judaism but hadn’t become Jewish. For Peter to cross his threshold alienated him from his own faith. Peter would answer for this later. There were voices telling him: “Don’t go there.” But Peter went there, and his life changed. The church changed.
Jesus gives us the great commandment in today’s Gospel reading. Love one another as I have loved you. He has been the Master up until now, the leader of a small group of people who wandered the hills of Galilee and Judea, met many people, see many miracles, heard many words of wisdom. This passage comes from the Last Discourse: the message that Jesus gives on the night before he is betrayed. There is much going on here; Jesus is giving his disciples a new vision, a new way of life. On the larger level he is breaking down a view of life with some people standing above others, where some people are more important than others. He is even putting them on the same plane as he: he is looking at them eye to eye as equals, which would have shocked and amazed them. He has given them his mission on earth; from now on, any way that people experience Jesus, they will experience through the disciples and the people they will invite to the table.
As we go through our lives, it’s a great challenge to live the Great Commandment. There are times we don’t want to go there: the price in our self-image or time or money just seems to be too much. There are people we don’t want to be around, people we think don’t belong, people we think haven’t earned their place. We want to box ourselves in behind our kosher rules that limit our contact with things we’re not comfortable with. But in the end, we are given the same challenge Peter was given: we’re called to cross a threshold and go someplace we don’t want to go, a place that will cost us. We want to embrace the Great Commandment, but there are times that it is frightening.
We come together to share something that will give us strength. We come to share the Body and Blood of Christ, to gain strength from Christ, and to gain strength from one another. As people in this point in history, we frequently feel that we are lone wolves in most of what we do, and going over the threshold is something we can do better if we do it together.