9 The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. 10 And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance 11 and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. 12 In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. 13 And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” 14 But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” 15 And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” 16 This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven.
The real conversion going on at this point is within Peter. He’s been preaching about the salvation of Jesus and the forgiveness of sins, but he’s still looking at all of it through the eyes of Torah and works of the Law.
He’s in a Gentile place, at least. Staying at the home of a tanner would mean that he’d be surrounded by unclean animals and even the clean ones would be unclean because they were dead. The city had a Jewish population, but it was still a Greek city.
The real oomph comes when Peter says “No, Lord!”
He had said this before. He had said it right to Jesus’ earthly smiling face!
Now he says it in regards to food. Poor Peter has been proclaiming the freedom that Jesus brings, but he is so culturally locked in, he can’t fully receive that freedom himself. (Spoiler alert: Peter really won’t ever fully get it. This is what about half of the book of Galatians is all about. It’s also the only book of the New Testament where somebody calls someone else stupid, but that’s a thread for another day. )
When God tells Peter to eat this unclean food, He’s not just wanting Peter to get extra ham chunks at the salad bar. For Jewish people, like vegans 😛 , what they ate was a big part of their identity. In this mixed up synchronistic world, a lot of the time a Jewish person could only stand out by what they ate. It wasn’t just a public sign to others, though, it was an act of worship. To go without bacon, or to strictly leave certain cuts of meat for the Lord was a way of showing devotion to the Lord. It was also a way of hoping that the Babylonian exile would never happen again.
So here’s God, telling Peter to go ahead and go against what his parents and grandparents always told him, and to eat this stuff.
But the point was never food.
“Don’t call anything unclean that I have made clean.” Says the Lord. It’s people! Don’t call any person unclean that God has made clean. Whether they are a group or a race or whatever.
Get ready. God is making more people clean by the sacrifice of Jesus than you ever expected. When they come to seek after God, don’t turn them away. Welcome them and call them what they are: clean.