Beyond the Profane

“But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.'”  Acts 11:9

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another… [for in this way] everyone will know that you are my disciples.”  John 13:34-35



What God has made clean, you shall not call profane.

In the Hebrew scriptures and later in the Second or New Testament, a lot of energy was directed to remaining as holy and distinctive before God.    Taking the form of law or regulations, these applied across the spectrum in terms of prohibitions applying to kinds of animal life as well as certain birds, shellfish, and insects.   Deemed as detestable or profane, abstaining from their consumption coupled with other prohibitions – allowed the faithful to be set apart and thereby, live in holiness or wholeness before God.

Millennia later, we are still setting ourselves apart.   But the reasons aren’t necessarily faithful ones.   Consider whom you prefer eating with because of dietary preferences, or whom you associate with or avoid, if you live under a roof or are homeless, or the country you owe allegiance to or renounce?  What about whom you voted for, what you do for a living or if you’re the right sexual orientation or not.  The list goes on

In the New Testament, there is a curious but compelling account where all species of animals, birds, fish, and insects – are pronounced by God as clean.   No longer would the dietary prohibitions apply.   But was God’s pronouncement done to broaden the width of the Israelite palate?   Or was God’s expansive embrace enacted so those once separated by dietary restrictions, culture, history, and ethnicity, could now eat at a common table?

But if dietary preferences, culture, history, geography, race, gender, employment, religious and political affiliation are not what distinguishes us  – then what does?

Jesus said just hours before his arrest, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another… [for in this way] everyone will know that you are my disciples…”   John 13:34-35

Talk about distinctiveness.   But given how annoying it is to be in the company of those whom we dislike, disagree with, think are stupid or find repugnant, can we still consider ourselves as loving but refrain from associating with them (especially at the table)?  Can we love those whom we like and merely tolerate those whom we don’t?

Evidently and according to Jesus, that answer is ‘no.’

Writes Aisha Brooks-Lytle, “…it is easy to rationalize our way out of loving one another. We want to qualify love. We want to complicate it by adding stipulations as to who is worthy to receive it and who is not. We want to pat ourselves on the back for tolerating the unlovable and loving those we tolerate.” [1]

What if merely tolerating those whom we deem as unloveable – makes us unloveable in the eyes of God?   What if we are the ones who are most in need of God’s love and acceptance – as generously offered through the “least of these?”


[1] Image from

[2] Aisha Brook-Lytle, Living by the Word – John 13:31-31, (Christian Century, April 23, 2019).







Author: Jessica McArdle

These are dark and corrosive times. As a writer and ordained minister with the United Church of Christ, I use prayer, poetry, reflection, and scripture to re-align our embattled spirits with the uniqueness and urgency of our God-given identity and call.

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