As someone who has discussed the subject of clean and unclean meats before from the pulpit , it was quite interesting to hear a message about the subject, as it is fairly rarely discussed. I was particularly pleased that the message dealt with the larger subject matter of why it matters in a larger perspective. Rather than seek to talk about or speculate about the health reasons as to why the health laws of the Bible were laid down in the first place or argue against the passages that are fallaciously and misguidedly used to claim that these laws are no longer applicable for believers, I would like to discuss instead the relationship between the meats that are acceptable to eat in God’s design and what sort of people we are supposed to become.
What are the qualities of the animals that God considers acceptable to eat? Many of them are herd animals. Sheep and cattle and chickens, to give a few examples, are all animals that are raised in fairly large groups, and which are sociable and get along well with others. So too Christians are called to be sociable, not merely because we are called to assemble together periodically  but because we are called to view each other as part of one body with other believers, which means that we are to develop a great deal of compassion and understanding of others and overcome our selfish interests pursued in solitude and isolation. Jesus’ ministry, in large part, especially as talked about in Luke, was about reaching those who were outcasts and who were outsiders, who were easy prey for the enemy because they were isolated from others. This is something we would do well to remember in our own lives. We have great need of intimacy with others, and to do intimacy well requires us to have a great deal of compassion for the sensitivities of others, and an ability to help others overcome the barriers they face to trust and feeling safe and at home. Some of us know all too well just how serious those barriers to feeling safe and sound can be. Even those animals which are clean to eat but which are not sufficiently sociable, like goats, are often used in a negative fashion, which only underscores the importance of sociability and communion with God and with others to living a successful life as a believer.
Another quality of clean terrestrial animals is that they are ruminants. Cows and moose and antelope all have a series of stomachs that allows them to ruminate on food. This allows them to do a few remarkable things well: survive on food that is nutrient poor by taking everything of value form it, providing an internal furnace that can keep such beings warm despite cold temperatures, purifying what is eaten to a great extent. Yet believers too are called to be ruminants of a spiritual kind. Over and over again, the Bible shows a great deal of favor to those who keep the matter in mind. There are many aspects of life that cannot be quickly grasped, even by those with a quick mind and a ready wit about them, but must be pondered over and reflected over for a period of time. Mary, for example, pondered the matters in her heart related to the prophecies about her son, Jesus Christ. Likewise, Jacob kept the matter in mind of his son Joseph’s dreams, rather than immediately dismissing it, wondering what God had in mind. That sense of curiosity and sustained interest is a matter of great importance to God, as the plans that God has for us take a lot of time to unveil themselves. Take Joseph, for example. He was given dreams at the age of seventeen, and it was not until about the age of thirty when those dreams came true, after much suffering and a great deal of character development on his part. Let that be a lesson to us.
And then there is the matter of cloven hooves. What would matter so much about hooves that are cloven? In large part any explanation of such matters must be at least somewhat speculative. Nevertheless, the Bible is very clear that we should be able to distinguish between what is good and what is evil and to choose the good. Over and over again, from the very beginning of human history, mankind is placed in a position to choose between two paths, and told which one is the right one . Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden of Eden where they had to choose between the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They chose wrongly. Israel was told in the wilderness to choose between life and death, blessing and cursing. By and large, Israel chose wrongly. The apostles were given the choice of whether to lead according to the ways of the heathen or the serving and self-sacrificial way of Jesus Christ, and far more leaders have chosen to follow the example of Diotrophes than that of Jesus Christ, the shepherd who laid down His life for the sheep. And so it goes. As we have been placed in a world in which we must continually choose, there is a divide that we must deal with, and so it should be of little surprise that the animals we are supposed to eat have that same sort of tendency in their own feet, a recognition of the divide we face in our path.
What are we to learn from this? We must shun the unclean thing, not merely the animals that God considers abominations but also the thoughts and deeds and desires that are abominable. This is by no means a simple or straightforward task. Yet when we shun the unclean thing, we are also to develop the qualities of what we do eat and what we do consume. We are to reflect on God’s ways, to be gracious and kind and loving towards others, even when they are not. We are to be in the world, and be a light to the world, without becoming a part of the world. None of this is easy, but perhaps we underestimate the sort of beings we are called to emulate. We are compared to sheep without a shepherd, but no one ever loved sheep for their brains–they are not the brightest of animals. How are we to be what we are called to be, and develop the qualities that we are supposed to develop, if we will not appreciate and reflect upon some of the deeper meanings of what God calls us to consume and to avoid. As always, I am grateful for the opportunity to ponder and to reflect on these matters, and to share what humble insights come to mind.
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