Clean or Unclean?

_DSC9313We all know what they say about opinions.  Yes, everyone has one but does everyone’s opinion count the same?  I don’t think so.  Some people’s opinion counts for more because of the position they hold or due to their knowledge of the subject.  If I attended a symphony and was accompanied by a classically trained musician I can assure you that my opinion on the performance would not matter or count as much as that of the person who could fully understand and appreciate all that goes into a symphonic production.  Now if you asked me to comment on Nikon cameras and also asked someone who had never taken a picture with one, I’d like to think that my opinion would count for more; I’ve been using Nikon equipment for nearly 30 years.

_DSC3016In the Book of Acts Luke records a fascinating vision that the apostle Peter once had.  In the vision Peter saw something like a sheet lowered from the sky.  Within that sheet were “all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air.”  Once Peter caught a glimpse of this collection of animals he heard a voice say, “Get up, Peter.  Kill and eat.”  Because Peter had been taught his whole life that certain animals were unclean and eating them was forbidden, he refused to do what he had been instructed.  Because he refused Peter was reprimanded by his heavenly visitor and told “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” (Acts 10:15)  We are told that the command to kill and eat was given three times and that all three times Peter refused to do what he was told.

To make a long story short, the meaning of Peter’s vision finally sank in.  God was telling Peter that he should no longer think of certain animals as clean or unclean.  The kosher laws were being done away with.  This was important at this time because the gospel was starting to spread to those who were not Jews.  If the kosher laws remained there could be no table fellowship between the Jewish Christians and the Gentiles.

_CES2500Furthermore, God was telling Peter that he should no longer think of certain people as being clean or unclean.  In Jewish life there were many people or groups that were not considered clean and thus were to be avoided.  At the time of Peter’s vision he was about to be summoned to the home of a Gentile, the Roman centurion, Cornelius.  Ordinarily Peter would not enter a Gentile’s home but his recent vision made him rethink the whole matter.  When he got to Cornelius’ house he told those gathered there, “God has shown me that I should not call any person impure or unclean.” (Acts 10:28)  This new revelation opened the door for the gospel to move beyond the confines of Judaism.  Peter went on to say “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts people from all nations who fear him and do what is right.” (Acts 10:34-35)

As I reflect upon Peter’s experience I come to two important conclusions.  First, whether we like it or not, all the animals God made should be viewed as good or clean.  Just because we don’t like spiders or snakes (or whatever other creature you want to name) does not mean that they are not good or do not have value.  Here our opinion really doesn’t matter.  The only one whose opinion counts is the person who made those creatures and God has already declared them good.  We should join God in recognizing the goodness and value in all creatures.

_DSC7009Second, I find in Peter’s vision a much needed reminder that we have no right to declare that another person is unclean or not valuable (this seems to be the primary truth God was trying to get through to Peter).  Once again, our opinion about some other person’s race, sexual orientation, economic status or intelligence doesn’t matter.  The only one whose opinion matters is the one who created them and, here too, God has already made it clear that all humans are extremely valuable and even worth dying for.  Some of us need to hear the voice Peter heard long ago saying, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

Some biblical scholars are amazed at how much attention and space is given to the story of Peter and Cornelius in the Book of Acts.  My guess is Luke recognized the importance of the lessons to be learned here and wanted to make sure that we didn’t miss it.  Thanks, Luke!

–Chuck

(I took the squirrel picture at New Harmony, IN; the indigo bunting at Henderson Sloughs W.M.A.; the deer in the Florida Keys, and the alligator at Everglades National Park.)