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Unclean

At noon on the following day, as their journey brought them close to the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted to eat. While others were preparing the meal, he had a visionary experience. He saw heaven opened up and something like a large linen sheet being lowered to the earth by its four corners. Inside the sheet were all kinds of four-legged animals, reptiles, and wild birds. A voice told him, “Get up, Peter! Kill and eat!”
Peter exclaimed, “Absolutely not, Lord! I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”
The voice spoke a second time, “Never consider unclean what God has made pure.” This happened three times, then the object was suddenly pulled back into heaven. (Acts 10.9-16 CEB)

 

There are a lot of rules about food in the Old Testament, still followed today by many Jews, the ‘clean’ food known as being kosher. This passage in Acts is one of the cited reasons why Christians don’t keep kosher, and it’s easy to see why. God directly showed Peter non-kosher, or ‘unclean’ foods and told him to not call them unclean as God made them pure. But it doesn’t stop with food, as Peter shows as the story continues.

 

Just a few verses later, Peter is faced with the gentile Cornelius and his family wanting to be baptized. Up until this point, gentiles had not been baptized into the faith as there were strict laws dividing gentiles and Jews. But, remembering what God had just taught him, Peter says in Acts 10.28: “You all realize that it is forbidden for a Jew to associate or visit with outsiders. However, God has shown me that I should never call a person impure or unclean.”

 

The Pharisees often pointed out that Jesus interacted with ‘unclean’ people, based on additional religious laws made by men that were sure God just forgot to include. It was a practice so ingrained in Peter that, despite Jesus’ example, he needed the Spirit to move him to remind him of the love and inclusion that Jesus showed.

 


I have been reading a book called “Unclean” by Richard Beck. This book looks at the psychology of purity and disgust and how that affects the life of the church.  He wanted to look at why people are considered unclean, and how that is decided, as evidenced all through history with all types of people, but especially so with the church. As he says in his book: “The church begins to define it’s spiritual mission as the regulation of purity boundaries with the membership and between outsiders.”

 

The social and political boundaries devised by people often employ ideas of disgust to help define those barriers. Those other people do disgusting things, are unclean, and are unworthy to be equal with whatever group considers themselves to be the purest. As Beck says in his book: “Disgust erects boundaries while love dismantles boundaries.”

 

Throughout history many groups have been ‘outside’ the church: gentiles, women, sex workers, people of different races, sexualities or gender identities. Religious leaders have decried these differences in every time and place, but the one seen most often today is against the LGBTQIA+ community.

 

But this is in direct opposition of what God showed Peter. “Never consider unclean what God has made pure.” We are all made in God’s own image, we are all pure and should not be treated as ‘unclean’. Jesus showed no boundaries to his love and called on us to do the same. We are all one body of Christ, and we should all see each other and treat each other as such.

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