THERE IS NO UGLY CHILD
Acts 11:1-10, Psalm 148, John 13:31-35
May 10, 1998 by Tad Mitsui
A tropical fruit called dorian smells like condensed sewage water to us. But those who grew up eating it love it. They say it is the fruit from heaven. Likewise, for a mother, her child is never ugly. These examples prove the point made in today”s lesson from the Book of Acts. "What God has made clean must never be called unclean." But we think that there are too many filthy things in the world. How can we accept what God has made clean but looks disgusting?
We are usually suspicious of anything that looks different from what we are used to. What doesn”t look like anything we know seems to us to be at least strange and unacceptable, and at worst disgusting and unclean, even evil. If you don”t know what they are, it is safe to avoid them. Your instinct tells you, "They look disgusting and dangerous. Don”t go near them. Don”t touch them."
Over the years people devised the ways in which they believed they could make unclean things clean, and can right the wrong. For example, the ancient Jews believed that by cutting away a bit of skin from a penis, a man”s whole body was made clean. In fact, many early Christians also thought that all non-Jews had to be circumcised first before they were baptised. This is because the early Christians were mostly Jews who grew up thinking that all uncircumcised men were unclean. They did not mix with the unclean people nor ate with them. They look at them with disdain. So their status was low in the society. But after the decision by the church not to require circumcision before Baptism, non-Jewish Christians became equal with the Jewish Christians, as well as women in the church. Baptism was performed for both men and women without precondition. By making the Baptism the only requirement to become a Christian, everybody could begin their life in the church on the equal footing regardless of their gender and nationality.
It was a departure not only from the traditional Jewish faith but also from all traditions in the Roman Empire. Many Jewish Christians could not understand how those men perceived to be still unclean could be equal with the already consecrated men. Neither did they understand how women could be equal to men. The subject of circumcision was hotly debated in the Church. In that debate, Peter was severely criticized many times, because he freely mixed with non-Jewish uncircumcised Christians and often ate with them. So by his act, Peter was making a statement to say, "You don”t have to become a Jew to be a Christian." It was a very serious policy change.
Peter believed that he made his decision according to the will of God. In a dream, God told him to eat all sorts of unclean, untouchable animals according to the Law of Moses. So he hesitated initially. But a voice told him, "What God has made clean, you must not call unclean." He took it as the commandment not to discriminate against the peoples from different cultures and traditions. God made it quite clear that the Baptism in the name of Jesus Christ would make everybody an acceptable and equal member of the church, even though they did not follow Jewish customs and traditions.
I noticed also that in Peter”s dream, food was used as a metaphor. This is very meaningful. Food goes into your body. So, eating is one of the most intimate act as sex is. We are understandably most careful and discriminating in eating and sexual acts. This is also wise. Being careless and indiscriminate in the choice of food and of a sexual partner is reckless, stupid, and dangerous. This is why it is very important for parents to tell their infants not to put everything into their mouths.
There is a good reason for being careful in approaching what is unknown and strange. But being careful does not mean you have to avoid them or hate them. If you are too cautious about the different and the strange, you may end up being narrow-minded and miss out on beauty, joy and richness of God”s world. We must find a balance between the love of what is familiar and the appreciation of what is different. How can we live in harmony with different peoples without losing our own belief and traditions? Because this is Mother”s Day, I suggest that we think about parental love as an example of God given faculty that helps us in our search of the fine balance.
It is interesting that we look at the most of the bodily things with disgust. It is less repulsive if they are our own. But it is interesting also that, as persons become closer to each other, as a relationship matures, and as affection grows into genuine love, those bodily things become less disgusting between them. Look at a mother. Nothing that comes out of her child is disgusting as far as she is concerned. Mother”s love tells us that with love and respect for another human being, we can recognize "what God has made clean."
When I was a young student, one year I volunteered to join an International Workcamp to do a reconstruction work in a devastated region on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines after a big earthquake. I had no idea of the atrocity the Japanese military committed against Filipino population during the WW II. Our camp was always surrounded by curious villagers watching a strange group of foreigners from many countries. I made many friends among them, and one of them was an one-eyed young man with a scar on his face. His name was Hector. Many evenings, we had some good time together. It was only after I returned home, another friend wrote to me to tell me about Hector. Hector was tortured when he was a boy by the Japanese military during the occupation, and lost one eye in the process. Apparently, he had been saying the first Japanese who came to his village would taste the medicine he was forced to take. My friend had assumed that was why he was hanging around me. So this friend stuck with me all the time worrying about my safety. He was now writing to tell me that he was very surprised how Hector changed, and how fast he and I managed to become friends. I broke out in cold sweat belatedly. I am grateful that Hector, knowingly or unknowingly, managed to see "What God has made clean" in me, while having fun time together. I wonder if Hector realized that "the Grace of Lord Jesus Christ and the communion of the Holy Spirit" were working in him.