Now the apostles and the brothers who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” But Peter began and explained it to them in order: “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision, something like a great sheet descending, being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to me. Looking at it closely, I observed animals and beasts of prey and reptiles and birds of the air. And I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I said, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing common or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’
Summary – Our passage is basically a distilled version of Acts 10 which immediately precedes it. In it, Paul is visiting a Gentile Centurion and is given a vision of “unclean” animals being let down from heaven in a sheet. When God’s voice tells him to “kill and eat” three times, he refuses each time saying that nothing “common or unclean” had ever touched his lips. God’s response is “what I have called clean, do not call common.” Following this episode, Paul meets some men and speaks with them about the Gospel. When they express their faith in his teaching, they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, and are baptized. Interestingly, the “unclean” food seems to mirror the gentiles. To the Jews, certain foods could not be eaten and certain peoples could not be Jews. When God says, “What God has made clean, do not call common,” He seems to be referring not only to the unclean food. God has now, in the fullness of time, called Gentiles “clean” through Christ Jesus’ blood: for the ethnically Jewish apostles to not accept them as members of God’s household would be to call them “common.”
Insight – Every culture has “taboos,” those things that you shouldn’t do. In Hindu culture, sitting with the bottom of your foot pointing toward another person is considered disrespectful. In other cultures, failure to eat all the food set before you by your host is a major sign of ungratefulness or dislike of the food. In Jewish culture, because of the Old Testament law, you could not eat certain animals for food, such as pigs and lobsters. American culture, as the product of the mixture of so many other cultures, does not have as many “rules” set in stone. However, we still have certain unspoken regulations about interactions with other people. Can you think of any? We don’t drive certain cars because they might make us look “poor” and then we won’t be able to talk to the rich people. We don’t wear certain clothes because they aren’t “cool” and then we won’t be able to talk to the “cool” people. We don’t always talk to people that are different from us in looks, interests, or vocation. But God has accepted all sorts of people through Christ! It doesn’t matter anymore if you are Jewish, Greek, or Guinean; a slave, a free-man, or a CEO. The poor in the world have been chosen to be rich in faith (James 2:5), the weak have been chosen to shame the strong and the foolish to shame the wise (1 Cor 1:26ff), and the Gentiles have been accepted to shame the Jews into accepting Christ (Rom 11:11). Now we are called to not be proud and stuck-up, but to associate with the lowly (Rom 12:16).
Child Catechism – When God calls something “clean,” what should you do? I should accept it with my whole heart.
Discussion – Discuss the similarities/differences between, 1) God’s command to Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac versus God’s command to Paul to eat the “unclean” food, and 2) Abraham’s response and Paul’s response. What do you think the significance is?
Prayer – Holy Father, we thank you for turning the world’s system upside down by sending your Son. Thank you that the people the world regards as worthless, you count worthwhile. Strengthen us by your Spirit to think your thoughts after you and see people the way you see them. Through Christ we pray, Amen.