In today’s first reading (Acts 11:1-18), we see that the life that Jesus offers the Church cannot be reduced to the application of rules and principles that one might find in some sort of manual, as if the life of God offered to us were something that we could acquire some mastery in. Rather, we see that Peter must actively strive to remain faithful to God precisely by being open to the stretching that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit demands of us.
When some of the circumcised (Jewish) Christians confront Peter for having broken the dietary laws that had—up till then—bound Peter and the other Jews, Peter has a chance to explain his discernment process. We hear about Peter’s vision in which a heavenly voice orders him to slaughter and eat the animals that are placed before him, including animals which were considered unclean and forbidden to eat under the dietary laws that Peter had always followed. Each time that Peter resists, a voice from heaven responds, “what God has made clean, you are not to call profane” (Acts 11:9).
Peter’s eyes are opened after the vision when he sees the Holy Spirit working in people who had not been part of God’s holy people. As a result, Peter realizes that he needs to obey the new vision and “slaughter and eat,” rather than obstinately insisting on obedience to the old law, which he seems proud to have never broken. As Christians, we are not called to obey some impersonal law or principle, but rather we obey the person of Jesus Christ, through whom the triune God is fully revealed. Let us examine our lives, asking where we also refuse to “slaughter and eat” when God commands us to do so. Every time we claim some sort of moral superiority that impedes us from following God’s commands, we are probably more attached to some beloved self-image or world-view than we are to the one who, through his death and resurrection, alone merits to be our Lord and our God.