From Mary Glenn
The story of Acts 10. When the first followers of Jesus learned that the privilege of knowing Jesus was available to Gentiles as well as Jews. God was now choosing not only Jews, but Gentiles as well. Why is it repeated several times that Peter was staying with Simon, the tanner by the sea?
First of all, Simon, though a Jew, was considered unclean because of his profession. He cleaned dead animals and prepared their hides. Daily contact with dead carcasses disqualified him from regular participation in temple prayers.
Secondly, Simon lived by the sea. I’ve always imagined a lovely seaside home, thus missing the significance of the words, “Simon the tanner by the sea.” The process of cleaning hides included washing away the offal, blood and other useless parts of the animal using the sea. (Pollution of the sea did not begin recently!) Even today, Joppa continues to be a poorer section of town because of its history.
Why was Peter in Joppa in the first place? He had come in response to an urgent request because a beloved member of the community had just died. And indeed, God raised Dorcas from death when Peter prayed for her. So Peter stayed a few more days, lodging with Simon.
Now, why do you think Peter was staying with Simon? Surely there were other, more respectable believers who could have offered lodging. Perhaps Peter had been strongly impressed with Jesus’ identification with outcasts---tax collectors, women of the street, even a political activist.
And yet, Peter’s ideas did not yet extend to the more extreme outcasts---those who were not Jews. The vision of unclean animals was beyond his understanding, especially when God’s instructions were to EAT the unclean animals. God graciously repeated the vision three times, a number that surely reminded Peter of his three denials as well as his three vows of love for Jesus after the resurrection.
Even as he accompanied the Gentile messengers on the way to Cornelius’ house, I don’t think he fully understood the message of the vision. He only knew the first step: that he should not consider Gentiles to be unclean, and that he should accompany them to Caesarea. Then, in Cornelius’ home, as he spoke about Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, God himself showed his acceptance of these people with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
How was Peter able to recognize this new direction that God was leading his people? He was praying in the middle of the day, and he followed through on what God revealed to him. May we also be open to unexpected new directions that God wants to take us, and may we also make ourselves available daily to hear his voice on our rooftops.