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. At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, “Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.” And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?’ When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, ‘Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.’ -- Acts 11:1-18
"Now what'd ya go and do that for?" I can't count the number of times I've heard that, starting with Mama and then going through friends, teachers, supervisors, neighbors. They may have used slightly different words but the inference was the same. I did something of which they disapproved or which they didn't understand how or why I could do such a thing. Never mind that to me it seemed like the thing to do or think or say at the time, evidently others didn't see it that way. Sometimes they were right, but not always.
Peter kind of had that same sort of experience. He'd gotten away from home, gone to visit Cornelius, a Roman centurion who was, as was called in those days, a "God-Fearer" but who hadn't been circumcised and so was considered an outsider. It didn't say he served Peter a ham sandwich, but he might as well have, or so Peter's friends back home thought. When Peter got back, the details of his visit had preceded him and he was met with a group of followers who began with the "Now what'd ya go and do that for?" recriminations. Of course, Peter had a good reason as to why he'd gone and done what he did, probably the best reason in the world. "God said I could." I'm sure that caused more than one upraised eyebrow.
There are times when it seems like the unthinkable is a pretty good idea. Daedalus tried to fly with wax and feather wings but his experiment didn't work out too well when he flew too close to the sun, but then there were Orville and Wilbur Wright who attempted the same sort of thing, perhaps with more caution. better materials and mechanical knowledge, and the whole world changed because of it. For Peter, eating with a gentile who, despite his God-fearing ways might just offer him a bacon cheeseburger or nice rack of baby back ribs, probably would have not been a blip on the radar. It just wouldn't happen. But God gave him a pretty persuasive argument and so Peter went, presented the message he was sent to give them and, as a result, Cornelius and his household were converted.
I'm sure there have been a lot of times in history when someone has done something that turned into a huge "Now what'd ya go and do that for?" moments. A lot of them are still having repercussions years, decades, even centuries later. A lot of them had and still have people staunchly defending one side or the other of the issue, those claiming that such an act "ruined" things forever and those claiming the change didn't go far enough or fast enough. Undoubtedly Peter's out-of-town, "What happens in Caesarea stays in Caesarea," experience was one of those which had repercussions. That old saw about "But we've NEVER (or we've ALWAYS) done it that way" seemed to apply then as well as now. Here the neighbors had been following what they believed was God's will, diet- and company-wise, and then there's Peter telling them God wanted just the opposite. It must have been a mind-bending moment for them.
The repercussions of that revelation are still going on today. It goes beyond pork ribs and bacon cheeseburgers and goes straight to the heart of what or who is good and acceptable in God's sight, what or who is made clean by God, whether or not we recognize it -- or them. Come to think of it, it makes me wonder if we shouldn't be remembering that in Genesis when God made something, God said it was good -- until it came to humans. Those were considered "very good", definitely a step up. If God created humans and thought them very good despite the fact that God had to have known that humans created with free will were going to goof up, make major errors in judgement, turn against God and the whole bit, then perhaps I need to look at the sheet God lowers in front of me and shows me those I might not remember to think of as God's children--clean, good and acceptable no matter what I've been taught or what I've thought.
Peter got his instructions on the roof of a house in Joppa where he was staying. I don't have to get up on the roof or go away among strangers to have my own revelation of sorts - or have to worry much about what the neighbors might say about how I act on that epiphany. I wonder -- if everybody had such an insight, not necessarily about ham sandwiches but about who God would invite to dinner, welcome into the house or even look at with love and say Very good," maybe there wouldn't be so much "What'd ya go and do that for?" but rather, "Why didn't we think of that?" It would probably be a really good change.
Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, September 1, 2012.