“The voice said to him again, a second time, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’…Then Peter began to speak to them: ‘I truly understand that God show no partiality,’ ” Acts 10:15, 34b
Peter had a vision of animals being lowered in something like a sheet and heard a voice from heaven telling him to kill and eat them, even though Jewish tradition and scriptural law said that they were “unclean”. Prior to this a man named Cornelius, a Company Commander of the occupying Roman military who was also a devout man who feared God, helped other generously, and prayed to God, also had a vision. Cornelius’ vision was of summoning a man named Peter who would provide answers to his prayers. Cornelius, as a Gentile (non-Jew), would have also been seen by Peter as “unclean” and to be avoided.
Peter chose to go to Cornelius and enter his home. Peter went on to argue for the inclusion of Gentiles into the Christian Church without first requiring them to become Jewish. Peter’s vision was one of a new kind of community – where all are welcome, and nobody is declared unclean because of the way they were born.
Sadly, the Christian community still has not fully embraced this vision and still wish to exclude people we believe to be “unclean” – because of their race, or their place in a cultural hierarchy, or because of their gender orientation. But Peter’s words will continue to ring uncomfortably in our ears: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality.”
Many thanks to Rev. Dr. Peter Grassow and the Brookings United Methodist Church for sharing these further reflections with us.