What do we find in Acts 11:1-18? Many things. An Apostle named Peter. A bitter division between portions of humanity. An unsettling vision of animals, deemed “unclean” by long-obeyed laws, gathered together in a sheet coming down from the sky. Then a voice from heaven, articulating the unthinkable: “Go ahead and embrace these animals. For what I have created to be clean you must not call unclean.”
As I spend time with Peter’s vision, it has never been clearer to me that it is less a vision about animals than it is about people. Divided people. Hurting and broken people. People who have come to believe that they are “unclean” or “unseen” or “untouchable” or “unloved.” The vision is God’s way of announcing to Peter, to the church, and to us, that Jesus has transformed the human network of relationships and reconfigured the “clean/unclean” dynamic so that we are now free to look upon every single person we encounter as a precious and beloved image-bearer of the divine heart whom God created to be (zestfully) clean, whether the person is honoring that cleanness or not.
It is a vision that gives me hope for my life, for a fractured world, and for a divided church. When I am most tempted to demonize, disparage, or dismiss the person on the other side of the issue or argument, or when I am closest to consciously or subconsciously categorizing someone as unworthy of my compassion or attention, Jesus invites me to make the redemptive journey back to Peter’s revolutionary vision and its new way of conceptualizing the world and its people: “What I have created to be clean you must not call unclean.”