God, Enemies, Iranians, and the Oscars

Last night at the Oscars, an Iranian filmmaker won the award for Best Foreign Language Film. I thought this was interesting because of all the political rhetoric that’s heated up with Iran lately. Iranians are the enemy, right? At least that’s what it seems like when I watch the news. Typically when I think of Iran or Iranians, the first thing that comes to mind isn’t positive. That’s what made the acceptance speech even more striking to me. Here it is if you want to watch it:

In the last line of his speech, he says this, “I proudly offer this award to the people of my country, a people who respect all cultures and civilizations and despise hostility and resentment.” I’ll admit, I was struck by his sincerity and his humanity when I watched this speech. For a moment it was clear to me that maybe I should separate my view of Iranian people from the political rhetoric and news stories dealing with Iranian politics. And then, I read Acts 10 this morning, which immediately made me think of last night.

In Acts 10, there’s are two stories of visions that people have from God. One is Peter, the other is a Roman named Cornelius. Both stories culminate in Peter speaking the following words to a group of non-Jewish people who have gathered at Cornelius’s house in Acts 10:34-36:

Peter said, “I really am learning that God doesn’t show partiality to one group of people over another. Rather, in every nation, whoever worships him and does what is right is acceptable to him. This is the message of peace he sent to the Israelites by proclaiming the good news through Jesus Christ: He is Lord of all!

Many of us would agree with these words to an extent, but are you willing to take them as far as Peter did? Think about it for a second. Who did Jewish people in the first century fear and despise because of their oppressive regime over them? Romans. What group of people had just killed Jesus a short time earlier by executing him by crucifixion? Roman soldiers. Yet here Peter is, in the home of a Roman soldier, saying that he’s learning that God doesn’t show partiality to one group of people over another? Yup. Jesus Christ is Lord of all, he says, even the people who killed him. ALL people, in every nation, are part of this family brought together by Jesus Christ. This is an incredibly radical statement.

This is a challenging few verses. There are many people groups that are despised by Americans. Often, we lump entire groups of people into one category, consider them to be our “enemies,” and write them off. But according to Peter, God doesn’t show partiality to one group of people over another. If Peter, arguably Jesus’ closest friend, is able to stand in a house full of Romans, the people who had killed Jesus just a short time earlier, and tell them they were accepted by God, what does that mean for us? What groups of people have we written off as evil, bad, lazy, enemies? What would it look like for us to share this same good news with those people, that they’re not the enemies of God, but instead that Jesus Christ is Lord of all? What would it mean for us to invite them to be part of our family? It, too, would be an incredibly radical statement.

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