Acts 11:1-18 • Psalm 148 • Revelation 21:1-6 • John 13:31-35
In this week's Sunday readings, the best story comes from Acts. The Acts 11 reading is based on the longer story in Acts 10. To begin, Peter has a strange dream involving animals in a sheet or net being lowered down to him, along with directions from God to begin eating these creatures. Peter, raised with a specific set of religious dietary rules, is repelled by the thought. All of us, I suppose, have at least one food that fills us with disgust. This was what Peter was feeling, when given these strange directions from God.
Previously, in the most recent Sunday reading which included Peter, Peter was confronted with Jesus' question: do you love me? Before that, looking at the bleakness of the world without Jesus, he had decided to go fishing. Before that, early on the day of Jesus' crucifixion, Peter was denying any knowledge of Jesus. Before that, when the Romans come to arrest Jesus, Peter impulsively drew his sword and cut off the ear of a slave involved in the arrest. Jesus quickly stopped his immature retaliatory response.
What will Peter do this time, with this strange dream of animals in a sheet lowered to him? Will he succumb to his immediate reaction of disgust at the foods represented in it? Interestingly, he begins by choosing to think about it (Acts 10:19), rather than go with his first impulse. Next, when a Roman military leader shows up at his door, he is accepting and welcoming.
The Roman military leader was a centurion of the Italian cohort, suggesting that he was the commander of a large group of soldiers from Italy who were stationed in Caesarea. The tension between the foreign Roman rulers and the Jewish inhabitants could be intense. Peter begins by saying that everyone knows they are not, at least by Jewish standards, supposed to be speaking to each other. Next, he makes an amazing comment: God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.
As children, some of us may have had parents who had a rule not to "call names." Others may have been reprimanded for this conduct while at the same time observing that the adults were quick to label others with many negative words. In still other families, there may have been no principle around this behavior. Peter, for his part, apparently has been giving a lot of thought to his reactivity and labelling of 'unclean' foods. He has moved from a limited interpretation of the dream as involving dietary choices to a broader understanding of all that it implied. It was not simply that the all food groups were now open to him, it was that the community of people following Jesus should be open to all.
As human beings, we are creatures naturally prone to looking out for our own group. Children often make fun of others, ridiculing and excluding those who fail to fall in line with the group. God, on the other hand, as Peter came to see, shows no partiality (Acts 10:34). Peter, like most of us, took a long time to grow up. Somehow, thinking about it, getting clear about what he was trying to do and what was getting in the way, seemed to help.
13:35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
In what ways do I still need to grow up? What would a more mature self look like?
Where was I able to be impartial today? When did immaturity rule?