This story must be important because it repeats what the previous chapter has already told us. Namely, that Peter has had three consecutive visions about food. We know that Peter seems to need to hear things several times before the message sinks in. In this passage he learns to loosen up, listen, go and see for himself, discern, respond, and accept. Many of us are also slow on the uptake, so we are in good company and grateful for God’s patience.
Most cultures offer food out of hospitality or love, so the one to whom it is offered must not reject it. When we visit or live in other cultures, we have to learn new customs, to understand what is polite or not, and to eat new foods with unfamiliar tastes. Once when I lived in Chile as a missionary I was offered a boiled chicken neck with head attached for breakfast as the only piece of meat available. I was baffled as to how to eat it. But because I had already learned to accept anything, I now know how tender the meat is in a chicken neck!
Peter also faces a learning curve when he comes to realize that God’s love reaches beyond the confines of Peter’s “in” group. He learns that Gentiles also receive the Holy Spirit and benefit from God’s grace. How often are we surprised by God in terms of who will accept God’s word? How often do we preach or evangelize and then are astounded when an unexpected person accepts it? This is often when our “buts . . . ” begin, and we end up reversing gears, reconsidering, and responding to God’s priorities.
God, do not let us become complacent. Prod us into surprising new paths. Amen.