4-20-16 - Kill and Eat

This week I have reflected on the Gospel reading for two days and will spend the rest of the week on the reading from Acts. These stories have so much life – and this week’s in particular amplifies the message of “love one another.” What happened to the apostle Peter while he sojourned in Joppa?

We hear these tales as Peter explains them to his brethren in Jerusalem, who are suspicious about Gentile converts to faith in Jesus Christ. Many of the Jewish believers fear this is too great a departure from their tradition (here they are, only a few years since Jesus’ resurrection, already defending the tradition…) So Peter goes to Jerusalem to explain to these “circumcised believers” why it is he eats and drinks with Gentiles, non-Jews. (Have they so quickly forgotten that Jesus too had to explain his choices of eating companions?)

Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision…”

Peter relates a bizarre vision in which a sheet is lowered from heaven containing mammals, reptiles, birds, as a voice says, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ Peter protests that he has never eaten anything non-kosher, but the voice replies, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ This happens three times, and the moment he emerges from his trance, he receives word that some men want to see him. They ask him to come and speak to those gathered at the home of the Centurion Cornelius. (These stories appear in greater detail in Acts 10 - what we have here is Peter’s re-telling). Normally, Peter would not have gone off with Gentiles, but with this vision fresh in his mind, and the Spirit’s nudging, he goes.

We’ll explore later what wondrous things happen in the home of the Centurion. Today let’s stay with the vision and message Peter received, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” Do we have here a hint of how the Holy Spirit expands our understanding of God’s word? The extension of the Good News to Gentiles, and the early church’s grappling with that, is instructive for us in our church conflicts over biblical interpretation and social issues. Christians on the more “liberal” end of these tensions believe that the Spirit has enlarged our interpretative lens, if you will, while those on the more conservative side feel that the tradition must be honored and upheld. But it seems to me you can’t get a more radical expansion of Mosaic food laws than, “Do not call profane what God has made clean.” What else might the Spirit be inviting us to re-examine?

What are some areas in which you have had to wrestle with scripture, traditional interpretation of that scripture, and a call to a more expansive view? Does this vision of Peter’s help or hinder your struggle?

For Peter, this experience provided critical data that he needed right away when called to a Roman centurion’s home. What happened when he got there confirmed the vision a thousand times. That’s how God works – he shows us something new, leads us into the unfamiliar, and then let’s us know we are exactly where he wanted us to be.

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