From the world of medicine and science we learn that we have unconditioned reflexes and conditioned reflexes. The unconditioned reflexes make us react in a certain way. When a light beam hits our eyes, our pupils shrink in response to the light stimulus. And when the doctor taps you below the knee cap, your leg swings out. These reflexes are called unconditioned, or built-in. The body responds in the same fashion every time the stimuli (the light or the tap) is applied. In the same way, dogs drool when they encounter food.
Now we have conditioned reflexes, those that we train ourselves for. We train a dog to run for food at the sound of a bell. We train a dog to recognize the jacket one is wearing is showing the time of his food. So the next time he seems me in the jacket he is used when he got food , he salivates.
Peter in the first story is going through conditioned reflexes and responses. His menu was pretty kosher at the time of this vision. He knew what was clean and unclean conditioned by the customs and expectations of the time and that of the religion he was part of. There is a Pavlov reaction in Peter at the sight of the great vision of the animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air for food. He is conditioned to feel what he felt as the scripture says.
It is then the awareness of a conditioning was brought to Peter. It is then the unconditioned grace of God and the purity of God’s creation opened up before Peter.
Without exception we are all conditioned through the ages past and religions we had been part of to be conditioned. Just like Peter our spiritual reflexes have been conditioned to see people through the lenses we are trained to see. Peter is given an unorthodox menu to choose from and that unnerved him.
It is like for an Indian man who is used to enjoying curry all life long, and having thought of it as the best food in the world coming to know of the half cooked or rare steak that drips blood as good and tasty. It is like drinking cold and iced tea instead of hot tea with lots of cream and sugar. It is like having a black cup of coffee as tastier than a cup of sugar water with a little coffee to go with. Eventually I learned wow, Louisiana gumbo, Pilipino pig head, European snails and the Japanese sushi are all food made for people and tastes as good as my Indian curry. There is nothing that is obnoxious or weird about what I am not conditioned to taste or see. It only calls for expansion of my taste buds, training of my ear, perfecting my eyes.
Why should we condition ourselves to taste and see all that God has created is good? The answer is very simple.
It is because
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them as their God;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”
There is no shadow of death among the people of difference, food of various tastes or kinds. If God has chosen to stay with those that he created, it must be pretty good. If God has chosen to come to those that God created it must bear certain qualitative substance and quantitative integrity. If God still finds meaning in wiping the tears of the creatures of the earth, there must be something more in them than we care to admit about our fellow men and women. If death is been removed for even those that I don’t understand, and even despise then who am I to award death to anyone? If life is been restored to people of all kinds what is my right to say otherwise?
Jesus challenges Peter about the blurred vision in the face of a divine vision. Jesus calls Peter to grow up to see the conditions that he has limited himself to in the face of the unconditional riches that are made available to him.
Jesus asks us all to love one another as Christ loves us. How can we do that? Only when we realize this, `What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ We can only love for an eternity what God has made clean. When there is an intrinsic cleanliness that can not be destroyed or taken away by anything we do, and when we acknowledge and accept that in all of God’s creation, we can love anyone and everyone as Christ calls us to love.
If I am unable to love and care about someone out there, regardless of their compass in any direction then I am still the Pavlov’s dog, sadly conditioned to run at the sound of a bell and not the voice of God.
What God has made in all of us for now and for an eternity is clean. Then, we all without exception get dirt all over us. Behind the dirty dress we all wear, there is a shining heart that can not be contaminated by human options. That is how the world will know we are disciples of a God who has taken shelter among the people of the world and not just followers who lives in heaven only!