Have religious people ever confronted you about behavior they find suspect? If so, this passage might make you swell. Imagine returning home from a transforming experience to meet suspicious friends and family. News travels like wildfire. Word of his journey reached Jerusalem quicker than Peter. It is easy to imagine the impact of the criticism he faced. It’s like a Tik-Tok video from Joppa went viral.
11:1 Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. 11:2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, 11:3 saying, "Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?"
People are resistant to change. If our equilibrium is off we find ourselves in fits. Confronted by the imposition of difference, we freak out. Imagine a puffy-tailed black cat slinking up a neighbor’s front steps. A violent outburst ensues as the tuxedo cat inside the house faces the foe on her porch. She lunges at the glass door and her cool cat status goes out the window. That’s us.
11:4 Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, 11:5 "I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. 11:6 As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. 11:7 I also heard a voice saying to me, 'Get up, Peter; kill and eat.' 11:8 But I replied, 'By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.' 11:9 But a second time the voice answered from heaven, 'What God has made clean, you must not call profane.' 11:10 This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. 11:11 At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. 11:12 The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man's house. 11:13 He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, 'Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; 11:14 he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.' 11:15 And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. 11:16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, 'John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.' 11:17 If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?"
Peter greets his community’s questions with a truthful recounting of his journey. Given the opportunity to clear his name, he shares his experience. He includes fantastic and extraordinary details and meets critics with calm assurance. This passage points to the expansive way God acts in our world. People receive revelation and the family of God gets bigger. Divine encounter is bound to increase the depth and understanding of people. There is much goodness to discover about the proximity of the Divine. Peter’s witness echoes through time in the parting words of John Wesley, “Best of all, God is with us.”
Life with God is dynamic. Peter’s encounter equips and empowers him to carry home the seeds of change. His friends are in for a surprise. The Spirit of God confronts and confounds people with awe and wonder. We have it all figured out and something happens to invite us to be different. Authors Heath & Heath know change is hard and it takes time. They suggest, “Change isn’t an event, it’s a process.” In change management, these experts suggest meeting challengers with consistent gentleness and patience. You’d think Peter had read their book.
Peter perseveres. Out of his knowledge and experience he joins the Holy Spirit and leads people into new ways of relating. Divisions that were norms in the society of his day were overshadowed by the activity of God. A Jesus reality means the church becomes a visible sign of reconciliation. (Snyder, H.) This means things will change. Synder stresses forming renewed relationships that show a new reality influenced by Christ. Refreshed people act; transcending divisions of race, economics, marginalization, injustice and/or oppression. Renewed communities challenge exclusionary practices and consider the benefits of inclusion. Inspired to practice hospitality and appreciate differences, people reflect God more fully in the world.
Author Rene Padilla highlights the most essential aspect of the gospel of Jesus. This involves the formation of a new human community including all kinds of people. The text suggests Peter did not enjoy a religious experience; he was being drawn into a new way of living. The new community formed in Christ is (and continues to be) marked by unity. The action of the Holy Spirit joins people of racial, cultural, or social differences.
11:18 When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, "Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life."
Peter’s journey reflects the newness of being part of Christ and Christ’s people. A time of diversity arrived. Once separated, Jews and gentiles came together.
How does our life journey reflect the influence of Christ in the visible reality of renewed and unified humanity?
*Journal of John Wesley https://www.ccel.org/ccel/wesley/journal.vi.xxi.html
*Heath & Heath. Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, Crown Publishing, 2010.
*Padilla, C. Rene. Mission Between the Times. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Michigan. 1985. P. 160
*Snyder, Howard. The Community of the King. IVP Academic, Downers Grove, Pennsylvania. 2004. p. 126.