Jesus and the Gentiles: Those "Other" Sheep
John gives a very specific time and place reference here. The when is winter. There may even be snow falling (rarely) as Jesus walks along the porch among the "gentile" God-fearers who seek to offer prayer and financial contributions, to be part of the action near the center of the Jerusalem sacrificial cultus, perhaps within sight of the smoke rising from the altar for burnt offerings. Jesus has followers, walking along behind or in front of him like a small flock of sheep, perhaps carrying and leading lambs of their own, or pigeons and turtle doves for sacrifice. The "Festival of the Dedication" (10:22) to which they have all come is the feast commemorating the re-dedication of the temple by Judas Maccabeus (1 Maccabees 4:36-59) in 164 B.C. after the defeat of the Seleucids (Syrian Greeks). The eight-day celebration marked a joyous end to the humiliation of gentile rule over Jerusalem and its temple, removing the disgrace that had cast a shadow over the altar and replacing shame with gladness. The festival is still known by its Hebrew name today, Hanukkah, and is still celebrated by Jews the world over (not just in Jerusalem) in December.
© Copyright 2010 by Debbie Rockey. Jesus in the Temple Portico in Solomon's Colonnade in Winter, John 10:22-23. Image rights available ($2.50) for church use.
John also tells us where Jesus was, specifically. He was in Solomon's Colonnade (aka, the "Portico of Solomon" or "Solomon's Porch"), a covered walkway along the perimeter of the courtyard of the gentiles, on the east side of the temple. Whatever else we may say about the location and its specificity, we should remember these things about Jesus and his relation to the nations (gentiles), especially the Greeks and Romans:
- Jesus came as the "light" of the world, especially the light to the gentiles (John 8:12, 9:5; Matthew 4:15ff. quoting Isaiah 9:1; Luke 2:32).
- Jesus came to bring justice and hope to the nations (gentiles; Matthew 12:18, 21).
- In Jerusalem, Jesus would be handed over to the gentiles for execution (Mark 10:33; Matthew 20:18-19).
- Jesus expects the love and welcome that his disciples extend to their enemies (e.g., the Seleucids, or the Greeks and Romans) to go beyond that of the gentiles (Matthew 5:41; the same goes for their praying, Matthew 6:7; and their concern for livelihood, Matthew 6:32).
- Jesus expects his followers to become servants, not lords, following the pattern that Jesus set in contrast to the pattern adopted by the nations (or "gentiles," Mark 10:42 // Matthew 20:25 // Luke 22:25).
Perhaps there is a thread connecting this pericope with the "parable" that comes in 10:1-6 and 10:7-18, especially in the contrast between Jesus (the Good Shepherd, but also the sacrificial lamb in 10:11ff.) and the thief or "bandit" (Greek lestes) of 10:1. If it is true that the anti-Roman revolutionaries of Jesus' day were known as "bandits," then Jesus may be making a contrast between their way and his way of gathering and protecting the flock. (There is almost certainly also a connection between the reference here and Jesus' famous line about the temple: "My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves" [lestes], Matthew 21:13, KJV.) Moreover, if the "other sheep" of 10:16 are the gentiles and the "hired hands" are the Jewish leaders (see Jeremiah 23:1-6 and Ezekiel 34:1-24), then it is surely significant that Jesus chooses "Solomon's Porch" in the courtyard of the gentiles during the "Festival of the Dedication" to claim unity with the Father and to tacitly acknowledge his identity as the Christ. One greater than Judas Maccabeus is here, but his relationship with the nations (gentiles) will be far different and lastingly (eternally) effective. Oddly enough, in John and for John's reader, the sheep need protection from the Jewish leaders far more than from the supposed threat of the gentiles.
Peter at the Tanners': Staying for a While, Preparing to Welcome Cornelius
With the identity and conversion of Saul of Tarsus, aka Paul (Acts 13:9) the Apostle to the Gentiles, now on the record (last week, Acts 7:54-8:3 and 9:1-30), Luke turns in earnest toward an account of the arrival of the gospel in the home of a gentile named Cornelius. But first, the unlikely bearer of the first ray of Good News to the gentiles must stop at the house of a tanner.
© Copyright 2010 by Debbie Rockey. Peter at Simon the Tanner's House, Acts 9:43. Image rights available ($2.50) for church use.
It is probably no coincidence that the only other time we hear of this Tanner guy (or any other tanner, for that matter) in the New Testament is in the immediately adjacent story of the Peter's summons to the house of Cornelius. It serves as Peter's "address" in Joppa, the "house of Simon the tanner by the sea" (Acts 10:6 and 10:32), but it seems to me that, given the "contents" of the vision, Luke is injecting both a sense of humor and a significant theological point.
But to get the point, we need to know more about the Tanners and their cousins, the Glovers. The Tanner surname "is an ancient Anglo-Saxon occupational surname for someone employed as a tanner of animal skins and hides." In other words, Tanners come from the tanning, an important skill and first step in the manufacture (back when manufacture still meant "hand work") of everyday items: waterskins, bags, boats, armor (especially shields, but also greaves and bracers), quivers, scabbards, boots and shoes (or sandals), belts, gloves (for protection, gardening, etc.), hats (let's not get started with the supposed connection between "hatters" and madness), aprons, harness, saddles, and tethers and ties, straps and strops of all sorts.
The English derivation of the name is from the Olde English pre 7th Century tannere, from the Late Latin tannarius, which was reinforced by the Old French verb taneor, introduced by the Normans after the Conquest of 1066. The ultimate derivation is thought to be from an ancient Celtic word for the oak (tree), whose bark was used in the tanning process.(Source, http://www.surnamedb.com/surname.aspx?name=Tanner") Is it any wonder then that Simon the tanner's house is "by the sea"?
In ancient history, tanning was considered a noxious or "odiferous trade" and relegated to the outskirts of town, amongst the poor. Indeed, tanning by ancient methods is so foul smelling that tanneries are still isolated from those towns today where the old methods are used.(Source, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tanning) It was the "combination of urine, animal feces and decaying flesh that made ancient tanneries so odiferous."
(Image source, http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d9/Leather_tanning%2C_Fes.jpg)
If you add to this description of tanning the fact that most ancient manufacturers, including the "clothes washers" (or "fullers," who used urine instead of soap to loosen the dirt from the clothes) of ancient Rome, lived above or alongside their place of employment, then you'll understand why Peter is having trouble sleeping. And why he is dreaming of large sheets being lowered with all kinds of unclean animals on them. (Acts 10:9-23)
Peter is "enjoying" the hospitality of a Tanner.
© Copyright 2010 by Debbie Rockey. Peter's Vision of a Large Sheet, filled with unclean animals, four-footed animals, reptiles, and birds of the air, Acts 10:11. Image rights available ($2.50) for church use.
Peter is stepping outside his "comfort zone" as the gospel moves westward (in addition to northward, last week, to Damascus) outside the confines of Jerusalem. Peter's first stop, the thing that brings him to Joppa, is innocuous enough (if death can be innocuous). A woman named Tabitha (Greek, Dorcas), a counterpart to Stephen the Spirit-filled deacon, has died. Her name means "gazelle" (an even-toed ruminant, a clean animal) and she is clearly one of the chosen sheep. Hearing that Peter is in the area, the followers of the Way summon him to attend her "memorial service" and to hear a recounting of Dorcas' good deeds. She is given the name "disciple" (mathetria, the feminine form of the Greek word, only here in the New Testament). Tabitha (Greek, Dorcas) is, like Stephen, one who cares for widows. Peter raises her from the dead and the miracle draws attention, as one might expect, which keeps Peter unexpectedly (providentially?) pinned for a while in Joppa, accepting the hospitality of a Tanner. There is, as we said, good humor here. We do not have a stinky corpse (no 4-day Lazarus here), but the place where Peter is staying stinks (literally!!!) and Peter has to be holding his nose while he sleeps, eats, etc. at Simon's house. In order to learn how to extend hospitality to the gentile Cornelius, Peter must take the first step in learning to accept hospitality from a Tanner. We too must accept the hospitality of those sheep who are not of this sheep fold, so that we may hear the call of Christ to extend the reach of the gospel to those who are "unclean."