Peter’s Vision

Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, saying, ‘Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?’ Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, ‘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. As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” But I replied, “By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.” But a second time the voice answered from heaven, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven.  – Acts 11:1-10

This is a story of a somewhat different Peter from the Peter we read about in the Gospels as he followed and learned from Jesus himself.  Here Peter is, appearing more mature and confident than the stumbler. This Peter grasped the points that Jesus had taught him earlier, and did not seem to need questions answered in simple terms.  This is a Peter that I respect and can learn from.

This Peter met with circumcised believers who questioned his association with Gentiles, even to the point of eating with them. This suggested that the meat at their meals might not be kosher, like seafood, pig, or other dishes. The circumcised could not understand how he could forget his upbringing and the ritual cleanliness that had been part of his life for so long. 

Peter told them about a trance that had come to him while praying. In that vision, a vast sheet came down from heaven, filled with all sorts of animals, birds, and even reptiles. These were creatures that were considered “unclean” by the circumcised Jews, to be shunned at all cost and never eaten, even when one might be desperate from hunger. God told Peter to kill and eat these creatures, something Peter, in his righteousness, had never done. God responded, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”  All this was repeated three times, a sacred number denoting completion, and, as Christians would later see it, a recollection of the Trinity.  Peter realized that this vision not only referred to meals but also to association with people whom the circumcised would shun. The teachings of Jesus applied not only to Jews but to Gentiles as well. In short, It expanded the “Who is my neighbor” in a whole different way. 

The image of the sheet has meaning for me because it permits me to eat things like shrimp and scallops, bacon, ham, sausage, and other things that involve mixtures of meats and seafood. In essence, it permits me to wear mixed fibers, own multicolored cats, put pepperoni on my cheese pizza, and all sorts of things. What it requires me to do, however, is to see all people as my neighbors and my brothers and sisters. Of course, there will be people I do not like, just like there are foods I cannot bring myself to eat, but that does not excuse me from the obligation to treat them as God’s children, just as I am. It requires me to treat the creatures and, indeed, the earth itself as a creation of God, to be respected, cared for, and loved.

I like the Peter I discovered in this story. It does not erase his humanity but adds to it in ways that make him easier to like and respect. Without his vision, I think Christianity, and perhaps the world, would be very different.  

Thanks, Peter. I think I will order a pizza – with sausage, mushrooms, and double cheese. Want a slice?

Image: Peter’s Vision of the Sheet with Animals, illustration from Henry Davenport Northrop, “Treasures of the Bible,” published 1894. Found at Wikimedia Commons. 

Linda Ryan is an Education for Ministry mentor, an avid reader, a Baroque and Renaissance music lover, and a fumbling knitter. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter and lives near Phoenix, Arizona.

[adrotate group="3"]
[adrotate group="4"]
[adrotate group="7"]

All content ©2022 by the Episcopal Journal & Cafe

The Episcopal Journal is a 501 (c) 3 corporation. Contributions are tax deductible.

Website design and management  by J T Quanbeck.