By Deb Crowley of Urbandale, IA, USA
About noon the next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. The voice said to him…. “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” —Acts 10:9, 15 NRSV
He did not want to obey, but Peter could not ignore the vision shown to him three times during his prayers. In this fateful vision, a sheet appears from heaven and on it were all kinds of animals, some considered unclean and unfit for the Jewish diet. To eat such fare would violate ritual purity laws and make him unfit to worship in God’s presence. Even so, God tells Peter to kill and eat. He refuses. Surely this must be a test of his loyalty to God!
Coincidentally, Peter has been invited to visit the house of Cornelius, a Gentile, who desires to hear about Jesus. Peter is not to make any distinctions between Jews and Gentiles. God has declared all people “clean.”
Peter obeys, and the people in Cornelius’ household become the first Gentile Christians. To obey God, Peter risked loss of standing in his religious circle. His courage among Jewish Christians paved the way for the Apostle Paul, who set up churches among Gentiles.
This story teaches that God breaks through with new instructions to include everyone. Not because people have always been “less than” to God, but because we have not seen them through God’s eyes and, for whatever biblically proof-texted reasons, have relegated them to second-place status.
History paints the picture. In biblical days, women and children had no standing. (This remains true in many places in the world.) Slavery was an acceptable practice. Religious leaders espoused racism from pulpits. People were jailed for interracial marriage. The list goes on—mentally challenged, physically handicapped, poor, people of different sexual orientation, people with differing religious beliefs.
Certainly God has broken through the cloud of confusion to show us that in God’s eyes, all people are “clean” and worthy of grace and love. All people are worthy of respect and dignity—God’s and ours. Like Peter, it has taken people of courage willing to stray from tradition, open and obedient to God’s direction, to break down barriers of prejudice and set people free.
What breakthroughs might God want to bring about through us? Do we have the courage to obey?
Prayer for Peace
All-inclusive God, when we start to categorize and label people, tap us on the shoulder. When we try to build walls, stick out your foot and trip us up. If we even think about excluding people because they are different, give us a loud “ahem.” You have our attention.
Spiritual Practice: Honoring the Worth of All Persons
Read Psalm 139:13–18. After reading, sit quietly and let the words sink deeply into your mind, heart, and body. What thoughts and feelings do you have about being “fearfully and wonderfully made”?
Sense the intimate knowledge and love God has for you and everyone. Be aware of the sacred worth of each person. Weep with God over the soul-wounding forces and events that rob people of dignity and worth. How does God invite you to notice, protect, heal, and affirm the spiritual identity of all God’s beloved people today? Pray for God’s compassion.
Today, God, when I think I’m doing what’s right, give me pause to check with you.