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
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
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
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
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.
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).