When I read that passage from Acts this week, I was all ready to get irritated by Peter’s speech: “You rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, and you killed the Author of life.” Here is yet another text, I thought, that has been a foundation of religious misunderstanding, of intolerance, and eventually violence by Christians against Jews. And then I was surprised: “And now, friends,” says Peter, “I know that you acted in ignorance…”
“Friends,” not enemies, Peter says. And rather than ill will, “ignorance.” Not perfect, but a much better place to start when speaking across difference, and surely Peter, who after all denied Jesus three times, would himself have to admit his own ignorance of what God was doing in and through Jesus’ death. Even after Jesus appeared alive again, it took Peter awhile to get it.
Ignorance is not something that is highly valued in our culture; it is not something I, at least, tend to admit easily: And yet there can be something freeing about admitting what we don’t know: This week at my training at the diocese there were some members of the staff at the St. Louis Episcopal Cathedral, who have been involved in the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, and are trying to be a part of the larger movement for racial justice there. They all talked about how important it was for them, all but one of whom is a white person, to admit that they didn’t really know the solution, or even understand the problems driving events in Ferguson; they had to rely on their African American colleagues, to lead them to understanding and action.
I know for myself, as I listen today to our presenters from Cure Violence about responding to gun violence among young people in Chicago, how important for me it will be admit that as a person who does not live in a neglected neighborhood affected by violence, poverty, and racism, and who is not automatically disadvantaged by my skin color, I don’t know the answers to the challenges that face West Englewood or Little Village or South Shore. I am ignorant, and admitting what I do not know will help me learn.
And that’s just the beginning of my ignorance. In truth, when it comes to how God is working in the world, how God’s plan for life is unfolding in the universe, how God’s desire for justice is rolling out, how God’s hunger for peace is coming to fullness, I am ignorant, just like Peter, just like those Jewish and Roman authorities who killed Jesus.
And that ignorance feels to me like a blessing, because it reminds me that it is God, and not me, who is running this show. It is God’s work, and not mine, to bring forth the resurrection and the reign of God. And by and large I have no clue about how God is doing that.
And yet, what I do know, what I hope we all know in faith, is that God desires co-conspirators, accomplices, partners in bringing about the liberation and reconciliation God has been promising since the beginning. And we know that we who are baptized are among those who are called, even in our ignorance, to be those partners and accomplices. So how might we do that?
I have been wondering what it would be like every morning to make my first prayer to God: God, I have no idea how you might work through me today, but give me some share, some role to play, whether I know it or not, in bringing about your dream for the world.
Perhaps after a time we might start to notice the opportunities God gives us. Perhaps we might start to know, to understand, how we want to partner with God. Perhaps our morning prayer might change: O God, I want to be a part of ending racism today. O God, I want to feed the hungry today, or shelter the homeless. O God, I want to heal the earth today. O God, I want to forgive someone today. O God, I want to help shape a fairer economy today. O God, I want to contribute to the growth of peace today.
I wonder what we might learn about ourselves through such a prayer. I wonder how we might discover our own call, how we might come to know ourselves, our own mystery, our own share in the life of God.
“Beloved, we are God's children now,” says the writer of First John in the second reading, “What we will be has not yet been revealed.” Acknowledging, even embracing our ignorance, about God, about ourselves, about the needs of this world, might be the first step to discovering just what God is revealing in us and through us as God brings about what God longs for in the world.