M. Daniel Carroll
Scripture Press Ministries Professor of Biblical Studies and Pedagogy
In Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of the Italian Cohort, as it was called. He was a devout man who feared God with all his household; he gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God. One afternoon at about three o’clock he had a vision in which he clearly saw an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius.” He stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” He answered, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God” (Acts 10:1-4)
Lent usually is associated with personal sacrifice, with abstaining from something that we feel has become too important in our lives. In addition to that pledge, there is the challenge of fasting, so countercultural in our consumer society. This self-deprivation sets the tone for repentance and serious reflection for Holy Week.
For the salvation gained at the cross we also are grateful. Lent entails, then, outward looking spiritual disciplines, through which we express our thanks tangibly for God’s grace by sharing with those in need. Authentic reverence is inseparable from charity. Almsgiving is an ancient practice that may be new to us. We may find examples of it in surprising places.
This story in our reading is one such example. What impact would it have had on first century readers? Cornelius is a commander of the occupying imperial army! But he was a God-fearer and a generous almsgiver, whose alms pleased God. The text does not say what Cornelius shared with others, but the people spoke well of this Gentile’s liberality. A worthy model to imitate!
This encounter with Cornelius also afforded Peter the opportunity to testify of the Good News. Through almsgiving we provide material necessities, but it also may open doors to confess the One whom we celebrate at Lent. Give and be prepared to be surprised!
Prayer: Father, teach us to be charitable to the needy in the name of the Crucified and Risen Christ. Soften our hearts, loosen our tongues. Amen.