‘Don’t call unclean, what God has declared is clean.’ This instruction to the apostle Peter in Acts 10:15 comes as part of his vision of heaven opening to release a large sheet filled with all kinds of animals. Peter is hungry but rejects the offer to ‘kill and eat’ because of his strict adherence to the letter of the Jewish law about forbidden foods.
But what do his vision and this text really mean, both for the early church and for us as God’s people today? Is it really about Peter’s diet or his obedience? Or is it really about the world around us and whom God longs to have in his kingdom?
Recently my wife and I visited our Afghan friend Mehrab, who is one of the leaders of a mosque that serves the Afghan community in Adelaide. We have known him for a few years, and he always seems glad when we mix with his community members. He has a kind and open heart.
The other day we were just passing by Mehrab’s home and called in unannounced. But immediately his extended family, who all live together, gathered to talk to us. Food appeared from nowhere and babies were brought out for us to admire.
After catching up on the family’s ‘news’, the conversation drifted towards spiritual matters, which is a favourite topic for many Middle Eastern people. Mehrab has several adult children and they all joined in heartily, while we drank multiple cups of tea.
The elder son, Ali, wanted to talk about Jesus and tell us how he had recently attended a church. It must have been a church in which people are invited to stand up if they want to respond to Jesus. Ali described how he stood up that day, and when people asked, ‘But Ali, aren’t you a Muslim?’, he replied, ‘Yes, but I love Jesus!’.
The Lord is at work in Mehrab’s family and, as we stood to go, we blessed them in Jesus’ name.
Jesus. The one we all ‘love’.
It is sometimes quite a process for us to see people clearly and to put aside our preconceived ideas about whom the Lord is calling – and who is likely to respond. Peter certainly faced this challenge and maybe, like him, we have a bit of ‘heart’ work to do.
Read Acts 10:1–20.
Is it possible for someone who is not a Christian (or a Jew) to be called ‘devout and God-fearing’?
What was it about Peter’s attitude that made the vision so challenging for him?
Does the passage indicate that God is determined to use his people to reach those who don’t know him yet, irrespective of their background?
Spend some time thinking about whether you share Peter’s attitudes about people who come from different backgrounds and ethnicities.
Do we consciously (or unconsciously) think that God favours some people more than others? Think about what you can do to better align with God’s love for all humankind.
Read Luke 10:25–37.
Why was Jesus’ decision to choose a Samaritan such a shocking choice for his Jewish audience that day?
If Samaritans in Jesus day were considered theologically and morally suspect, which people would we regard as modern equivalents of a Samaritan in our society today?
Is there a Mehrab in your life to whom you could show more respect?
Think and pray about how this might impact our attitude to people of different racial and cultural backgrounds as we go about ‘loving our neighbour’.
Craig Heidenreich is the LCANZ’s Manager of Cross-Cultural Ministry.