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It’s hard not to have personal preferences for all manner of things (colours, music, food, clothes) and most of the time, this is simply one way in which we express our own individuality. This can easily lead to having favourite things, but it becomes much more difficult when we move on to favourite people! Parents who have favourite children (and make this visible, as Jacob did, for example, with Joseph) often end up causing more problems than they solve, with the favourite being at risk of becoming spoilt and arrogant and everyone else feeling jealous, resentful and insecure.

We may feel that God has favourites: doesn’t the whole of the Old Testament imply this, in choosing to bless Abraham and through his seed calling Israel to be a holy nation? We may feel that God is the ultimate example of showing favouritism and end up either smug because we are part of His chosen people or resentful because we are not. But this is a very simplistic reading of the Scriptures.

Abraham was chosen not only to receive God’s blessing but to be a blessing: ‘all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.’ (Gen 12:3) The nation of Israel, who received God’s love and covenant, was called to be His light to the whole world. Although by the time of Jesus the religious hierarchy separated the world into ‘Jew’ and ‘Gentile’ (everyone who was not a Jew!), this did not mean that God loved one and not the other. Peter came to realise that ‘God does not show favouritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.’ (Acts 10:34-35) and part of the revolutionary truth of the gospel was that God’s invitation was extended to all people, whose response was based on repentance and faith in the saving work of Jesus Christ (‘Lord of all’) rather than on circumcision and birth.

In our multi-cultural, multi-racial society, it can be hard to grasp how revolutionary this teaching was (and still is!) Peter witnessed the Holy Spirit coming on Cornelius and those gathered as he was speaking and there was no way he could refute what God was doing. (Acts 10:44-47) Paul would go on to make explicit what happened on that day in many of his letters (see Romans 9-11, Eph 2:11-23), but this was a historic moment when so many prophecies began to be fulfilled and the liberating work of the gospel began to spread towards Rome, the centre of the civilised world at that time.