Acts 10: 9-28, 34-35
About noon the next day, as they were
on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on
the roof to pray. 10He 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.
Now while Peter was greatly puzzled about
what to make of the vision that he had seen, suddenly the
men sent by Cornelius appeared. They were asking for Simons
house and were standing by the gate. They called out to ask
whether Simon, who was called Peter, was staying there. While
Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said
to him, Look, three men are searching for you. Now get
up, go down, and go with them without hesitation; for I have
sent them. So Peter went down to
the men and said, I am the one you
are looking for; what is the reason for your coming?
They answered, Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and
God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish
nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come
to his house and to hear what you have to say. So Peter
invited them in and gave them lodging.
The next day he got up and went with them,
and some of the believers from Joppa accompanied him. The
following day they came to Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting
them and had called together his relatives and close friends.
On Peters arrival Cornelius met him, and falling at
his feet, worshipped him. But Peter made him get up, saying,
Stand up; I am only a mortal. And as he talked
with him, he went in and found that many had assembled; and
he said to them, You yourselves know that it is unlawful
for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God
has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.
Peter began to speak to
them: I truly understand that God shows no partiality,
but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is
right is acceptable to him.
Reflection on Acts 10: 9-28, 34-35
by John G. Gibbs, PhD
It would be quite a stretch to reach emphasis on "eating locally"
from any of these texts. To attempt to do so would not serve our
interest in recovering the significant presence of the creation
within biblical literature. That is because the function of each
of these texts is something other than to commend "eating locally'
rather than having our foods brought to us an average of 1,200-1,500
miles. There is the further circumstance that in the cultures for
which these texts were written most food was consumed locally, for
our 21st century transportation network did not then exist.
The issue in Acts 10:9-28, 34-35 is the inclusiveness of the gospel
as distinct from purity laws. At the time when Luke wrote the first
volume of the Church's history in The Acts of the Apostles, the
major story to be told was the spread of the Christian faith beyond
Jewish Christians into Gentile communities. The message of "peace"
(10:36) is one of inclusion rather than exclusion. That meant, as
Peter said: "God has shown me that I should not call anyone
profane or unclean." This text, accordingly, implies much of
relevance to the present economic class divisions, racism, and homophobia
in the Church. This implication can be made, that is, if the innovations
of biblical interpretation and cultural mores that obtained in the
early Church are to be our guide (rather than wooden repetition
of the exact situation specified by Peter).
Deuteronomy 6:4-9 is the famous "Shema" (Hebrew word
"Hear") in the Torah and in Jewish tradition. It remains
today the foundational charter of religious education within synagogue
and church alike. Observe carefully: its monotheism, "love"
as the central command to those whose lives would be oriented toward
that one God alone, the presence of this faith in the whole of the
community's life (verse 7), the relevance of this faith to the whole
personality of both a person and a community (hand, forehead, house,
gates), the transmission of this faith from one generation to the
next (recite, talk about).
In light of this monumental statement about the meaning of the
first commandment (within the Decalogue), there is no basis for
the view that Judaism is a religion of "works" as opposed
to Christianity's "faith." The one God alone is as much
the God of grace for Judaism as God is the God of grace for the
Church. For the Shema, as subsequent verses show, God is the God
of deliverance from bondage, the God of liberation, the God who
wills "that your days may be long" (6:2) and "that
it may go well with you" (6:3), the God whose promises (6:3ff)
communicate his grace. Anti-Semitism is a black mark on the Church's
history. [E. P. Sanders, Lloyd Gaston, and many others have combated
against false dichotomies between Christianity and Judaism that
have done justice to neither religious community.]
At Jacob's well near Sychar in the culturally pluralistic Samaria
(between Judea and Galilee), according to John 4:7-41, Jesus drew
"living water" from a deeper well than ancient hostilities
had known. Divisions between man and woman, between Samaria and
both Judea and Galilee, between Jerusalem's temple and any other
place of worship-all these are set aside by Jesus' inclusive lifestyle
and message. In this text as in Acts 10 we see the early Church's
innovative interpretations of biblical texts, and again we find
precedents for interpretive approaches that go for the essential
core, casting aside the dispensable particulars of historical circumstance.
Worship is not confined by place, however much a particular place
such as the Jerusalem temple might aid worship. Instead, "true
worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth" (4:23).
That is because "God is spirit." We can worship anywhere
"in spirit and truth."
It is well to remember that this gospel was written at least 2
decades (or was it 6-7 decades?) after the resurrection, and thus
in light of the Church's faith even though details of events and
words at least 20-23 years old no longer might be recalled exactly.
The object was much less to report historical details than to report
"signs" which Jesus "did" (20:30), not in order
to satisfy our modern quest for "what actually happened"
but "so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah,
the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in
his name" (20:31).
That circumstance helps us understand words attributed to Jesus
(4:10, 13-14, 21-24, 26, 32-38) not as egomaniacal statements, but
as being words of this gospel's author that legitimately try to
summarize the real meaning in the life and work of Jesus. Echoes
of Jesus' exact words and deeds may remain extant in these concise
accurate summaries of their meaning.
The Lord's Prayer conjoins heaven and earth, God's glory and our
needs, our needs and our neighbors' needs. Daily bread received,
"debts" forgiven, deliverance from evil are our petitions
or requests to holy God. Forgiveness received is prototype of forgiveness
granted, both being the basis of life in community with "others"
(6:14-15). [That is the case in Matthew's version of the prayer.]
Luke 11:2-4 has "sins" instead of "debts,"
"Father" instead of "Our Father in heaven,"
omits "Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,"
and omits "but rescue us from the evil one." These variations
in details, while the basic substance of Jesus' teaching about prayer
remains constant, remind us of the fact that all the gospels were
written at a time some decades later when the words and events being
described on the basis of oral tradition might not be stated exactly
the same way on each recall. They were written so that what mattered
most, namely the basic meanings of Jesus' words and deeds, would
remain intact and available both for later generations and for contemporaries
yet to be proselytized.
In both Matthew and Luke the Lord's Prayer is both physical (earth,
bread) and spiritual (hallowed, debts or sins, time of trial), always
within the community of faith ("Our," "us,"
"we ourselves"). Daily bread and forgiveness remain prominent
in the recollections of both gospels.
So then, what to do about "eating locally"? Why not include
a flyer in the church bulletin that deals with the necessity of
eating locally as a means of reducing our use of fossil fuels (products
of millennia of sunlight), and thereby reducing global warming?
Our texts do not speak to the issue, for the problem we have (global
warming) did not then exist.
But if we try to live on the basis of God's will being done on
earth (no less than in heaven), then we cannot continue contributing
to the ruin of the planet. Further, if we live on the basis of God's
promises of liberation from bondage, then we cannot continue to
subject more and more species to extinction as the conditions essential
to their survival are destroyed by our lifestyles. Instead we will
learn to live as one among other species, and as those who "image"
the garden-tending Creator by making choices that do in fact tend
the garden that has been entrusted to us.
Historical geography (see, e.g., Jared Diamond's books including
Collapse) documents local ecological disasters that were
human-caused. But the present planetary situation of human-caused
climate change was unknown until our time. Certainly there are ample
precedents in biblical literature for living carefully within our
natural habitats, and restoring the creation that we have been destroying.
These precedents warrant the Church's vigorous engagement with,
and support of, efforts to save our ecological heritage from the
Creator. An excellent recent study is that by Terence E. Fretheim,
God and World in the Old Testament: A Relational Theology of
Creation (Abingdon, 2005).