…Then Peter testified: “… in a trance I saw a vision… `Get up, Peter; kill and eat [the unclean animals].' But I replied, `By no means, Lord; for nothing defiled or unclean has ever entered my mouth.' … a voice answered from heaven, `What God has made clean, you must not call [defiled].’” Acts 11
Now while Peter was greatly puzzled about what to make of the vision that he had seen” - Acts 10
It’s hard to think of a more import passage outside the Gospels than this story about Peter and his dirty dream (Acts 10 - 11). Historically, we have often obsessed over Paul’s dramatic conversion in Acts 9, but Peter’s conversion is equally profound - both men BELIEVE they can see but are profoundly blind until they have a supernatural encounter with the risen Christ.
Neither man was ready for Christ’s expansive vision for community (i.e. the Kingdom of God). The Christian Church’s acceptance of Paul’s conversion, but the inability to understand and accept Peter’s - from the very beginning and and still today - is tragic. Early in our tradition we were given a gift that could have woken us up and spared the world many witch trials, crusades, and other seasons of Christian moral authoritarianism. We Christians can imagine a murderous zealot being softened and redirected by Jesus - but we could not, and often cannot, imagine our own religious convictions are too exclusive and more hurtful than good. We cannot see that our walls are more likely to exclude Jesus than anyone else. One only need look at the news this week, or any week in modern America, to see scores of Christians who have yet to accept Peter’s vision and see beyond their lists of clean and unclean. The voice from heaven screaming “What God has made clean, you must not call defiled” cannot be heard over the constant scapegoating of their political and religious tribe
This makes sense: Tribes are almost always organized and fueled by what they are against. When Peter is told to eat unclean food, he resists because diet was a significant part of his ethnic, tribal identity. To give his distinctive up was to risk losing the things that made him special to God and their sense of having the ‘moral high-ground.’ The energy of “against” seems more powerful than the energy of “for.” *Against* is powerful for mobilizing people quickly, especially when coupled with fear. However, using “against” to fuel a movement or a life leaves people hollow + bitter in the end. Rather than developing the beauty within, we settled for someone to blame. And once we have allowed our unchecked prejudice to hollow us out, once we have tuned out the voice of love from heaven, all that’s left to hold onto is your belief that at least your are better than “them.” This sad emptiness is not what Christ came to reveal to us and its not to late to sit at his feet and learn from his expansive love - just like Peter did.
- Take a look at 9-11 of Acts - What other similarities between Peter + Paul’s conversions can you find.
- How do Peter’s vision in Acts 11, and Jesus ‘new command’ in John 13 fit together?
- How does Peter’s vision affect the way we read scripture?
- How is our perspective of the Bible affected by his statement, ’What God has made clean, you must not call defiled’?
- How might this passage speak into the issues the modern church is facing?
- How do tribes build core identity if they don’t agree on which people to exclude and be against?
*You can get the full Lectionary sheet for this week *HERE*