Acts 10: 9 – 23 Peter’s vision

Acts 10: 9 – 23 Peter’s vision

About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. Then a voice told him, ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.’

‘Surely not, Lord,’ Peter replied. ‘I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.’

The voice spoke to him a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’

This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.

While Peter was wondering about the meaning of the vision, the men sent by Cornelius found out where Simon’s house was and stopped at the gate. They called out, asking if Simon who was known as Peter was staying there.

While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, ‘Simon, three men are looking for you. So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.’

Peter went down and said to the men, ‘I’m the one you are looking for. Why have you come?’

The men replied, ‘We have come from Cornelius the centurion. He is a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people. A holy angel told him to ask you to come to his house so that he could hear what you have to say.’ Then Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests.

*       *       *

Three times in thirty-six verses Luke tells us that Peter was staying in the house of Simon the tanner. It feels repetitive and slightly clumsy. I can only assume that it’s particularly significant, and that Luke wants us to notice and remember.

Why might that be?

Judaism in first century Palestine was based on a minutely detailed set of rules that governed every part of life. The idea was that because God is holy, his believers should also be holy. Holiness demanded the avoidance of impurity, and the Jewish Law specified literally hundreds of things that would make you ritually unclean. This included many animals; it included corpses, animal as well as human; and, of course, it included Gentiles. You will remember from yesterday that we noted that Cornelius, although a man who feared God, was still a Gentile.

So, what about Simon the tanner?

Perhaps surprisingly, Simon wasn’t ritually unclean. There was a need for leather, for scrolls and for straps, especially for those used in worship. It would have been hard to justify using leather if tanners were automatically unclean.

However, tanners stank. No matter how carefully they washed, the smell always clung to them. As a result, they weren’t allowed into the temple, or the synagogue. Their tannery had to be well outside any human settlement. The wife of a tanner had the right to divorce him just because he was a tanner, and this applied even if she had originally agreed!

So Simon the tanner, while not being ritually impure, was excluded from formal worship and was socially right at the bottom.

And Peter was staying with Simon the tanner.

The community of believers, the early church, accepted Simon, despite him being a tanner. We can only imagine what it must have meant to him to be free to worship with other people, and to be fully accepted as part of the community.

While at Simon’s house, Peter had a vision in which he was confronted with an assortment of unclean creatures, and told to kill and eat. As a Jew – because at that time Christianity wasn’t a religion, it was a sect within Judaism – Peter felt bound by the purity laws.

‘Surely not, Lord,’ Peter replied. ‘I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.’

Oops! Wrong answer!

The voice spoke to him a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’

Despite this, Peter still wasn’t convinced. Three times the vision repeated the instruction to kill and eat, before it ended.

Peter sat there and wondered about the vision. What on earth could it mean? He’d observed Jewish dietary laws since he was a small child. Why did God seem to be telling him to break the rules? Was it some kind of test?

While he was sitting thinking, the Holy Spirit said to him ‘Simon, three men are looking for you. So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.’

Peter went down to them. He was beginning to understand. The men introduced themselves and told him that they had been sent by Cornelius the centurion, a Gentile, for, ‘A holy angel told him to ask you to come to his house so that he could hear what you have to say.’

Peter saw how God had spoken both to Cornelius, and to him, and had sent him this puzzling vision of unclean animals. Perhaps God was telling him that Gentiles were no longer unclean?

At all events, Peter knew what he had to do next.

Then Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests.

And tomorrow he must go with the men to Caesarea.

Prayer

Lord Jesus, thank you for being close to me today. Thank you for your comforting hand, and for your guidance.

Amen

Published by pennygadd51

I write. I've written many pieces of flash fiction, dozens of short stories and two novels, with a third in progress.

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