Peter’s Report to the Church at Jerusalem
11 Now the apostles and the believerswho were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. 2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believerscriticized him, 3 saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” 4 Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, 5 “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. 6 As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. 7 I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ 8 But I replied, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ 9 But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ 10 This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. 11 At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. 12 The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. 13 He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; 14 he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.’ 15 And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” 18 When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”
This is a great story. As a parent of a teenager, it is so interesting to hear her discuss the hierarchy of cliques in school. There are the popular kids, the band geeks, the druggies, the loners, the wannabes, the do-gooders, the quiet ones, the athletes/jocks and those who don’t fit in anywhere. From her perspective, the “popular” kids have life so much easier than anyone else. They are smart, funny, attractive, date frequently and bad stuff doesn’t happen to them. And I am sure that those popular kids have some of the same insecurities that all teenagers feel, but they have the disadvantage of believing their own press – that they are better than everyone else simply because of their status.
This reading has Peter back in Jerusalem with the “circumcised believers” who just can’t believe that Peter has spent time with those “uncircumcised men,” even eating with them! Peter tells of a great vision from God, helping him understand that God cares nothing about the group you belong to and everything about believing in the Lord and Savior.
I love a good vision…the subtlety of looking for signs and discerning God’s will is hard for me. When God speaks to me in a vision, it seems stronger than a nudge and more like a push or a shove! Jesus spent his travels and teachings with the poor and meek; the religious hierarchy was not where he wanted to spend his time. The Bible has stories filled with Jesus healing the sick – not the rich and sick, but the poorest of the poor. Those who needed it the most and had nothing to lose by trusting in Jesus and his love for them were the leading characters in many of the miracles in Jesus’ life. Yet still, the “circumcised” (read: the most righteous folks in the land or the “popular kids”) couldn’t believe that Peter spent time and energy on them. What would it take? Why, a vision of course!!!! And Peter was still worried about eating “unclean animals” himself. The vision made things pretty clear – Jews and Gentiles alike were all called to follow God and were not to be separated by the things that humans use to divide ourselves from each other.
In today’s world, we spend a lot of time seeing the differences between ourselves and those near and far. We see the things that separate us as barriers to forming our community of believers. This vision of Peter’s that he tells to the men of Caesarea makes clear that we are called to reach across the differences between us to love one another and lead people to Christ. No one is to be excluded and all are welcome at the table. Now, do we live out this declaration from God or are we standing in the way?
God of all, we reach out to you in love and praise your name for all to see. We ask you to lead us to serve you among all people and love our neighbors as ourselves, even when the differences between us seem insurmountable. Help us to see our common ground and build up your community of faith. In Jesus’ name we pray. AMEN.