Peter was not at all prepared for what was about to happen. It cut against the grain of everything he had ever been taught. His job was to carry the message of the gospel to the Jews. Period. They were the ones Jesus had come to save. . .or so he thought. And then, the dream.
God uses a blanket full of all kinds of food that would have been detestable to a good Jew in order to prepare Peter for the visitors that are about to be at his door. Just as God instructs Peter in the dream to go ahead and accept the food he sees there, so he will be expected to accept his soon-to-be visitors–Gentiles!
It is a remarkable expression of having an open heart and an open mind. Rather than remaining entrenched in the assumptions of his tradition, Peter chooses to be responsive to the movement of the Holy Spirit and accepts people he never would have accepted before. His act of hospitality was a crucial event in the formation of the early church. His example certainly contributed to the Council in Jerusalem’s openness to the founding of new communities of faith throughout the Greek world. We read about several of these today as the book of Acts recounts the travels of Paul and Barnabas.
Peter’s example is also instructive to the church today, wherever congregations assume they have the right to declare who is “in” and who is “out.” His witness reminds us that the Holy Spirit tends to be in the business of opening doors, not closing them.