According to the Book of the Acts of the Apostles:
Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat; and while it was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air. Then he heard a voice saying, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” The voice said to him again, a second time, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven.
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Acts 10:9-16 – June 10, 2012)
God used the vision of a sheet filled with unclean animals to get Peter’s attention. “Here,” said the voice, “eat this stuff!” That would certainly have gotten my attention! I eat all sorts of things Jews would consider “not kosher” – pork, ham, bacon, crab, lobster, clams, black pudding (I love black pudding!), haggis; none of that would have gotten my attention. But a commandment to eat from a sheet filled with eels or snakes or lizards or insects of any sort would definitely have done so. So I can understand Peter’s rather negative reaction! ~ This vision was metaphorical or allegorical or a simile or something like that. (You’d think a one-time English major could keep those straight.) God wasn’t really telling Peter to eat those things; God was making a point about people. God’s point was to make Peter understand that God had nothing against gentiles, that all are equal in God’s sight. (I’m not sure how, as a gentile, I feel about being represented by eels and whatever, but I suppose God can use whatever metaphors God chooses. . . .) The lesson, obviously, was that Peter ought to be as accepting and admit gentiles into the Christian fellowship. ~ When the voice said to Peter, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane,” those words were meant to have application far beyond Peter and Cornelius (the specific gentile who was about to come seeking baptism). There’s a lesson there for us, too. In Christ, God has made every person in the world equal before him without regard to nationality, ethnicity, race, sex, sexual orientation, hair-eye-or-skin color, right- or left-dominance (and even the ambidextrous)! As Paul wrote in yesterday’s epistle lesson: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28). Therefore, we Christians must treat every person we meet with dignity and respect. It’s more than too bad that we don’t; it’s sinful! ~ I may not be willing (or even able) to eat eels or snakes or insects. In fact, the very idea of eating eels makes me go, “Ewwwww!” and get slightly nauseated. But I had better learn to accept every human being as my equal before God, or I suspect that I will not be allowed to stand there myself.