Lectionary Reflection—28 May 2017
Dear friends, don’t be surprised about the fiery trials that have come among you to test you. These aren’t strange happenings. Instead, rejoice as you share Christ’s suffering. You share his suffering now so that you may also have overwhelming joy when his glory is revealed. If you’re mocked because of Christ’s name, you’re blessed, for the Spirit of glory—indeed, the Spirit of God—rests on you.
[Now none of you should suffer as a murderer or thief or evildoer or rebel. But don’t be ashamed if you suffer as one who belongs to Christ. Rather, honor God as you bear Christ’s name. Give honor to God, because it’s time for judgment to begin with God’s own household. But if judgment starts with us, what will happen to those who refuse to believe God’s good news? If the righteous are barely rescued, what will happen to the godless and sinful? So then, those who suffer because they follow God’s will should commit their lives to a trustworthy creator by doing what’s right.
Therefore, I have a request for the elders among you. (I ask this as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings, and as one who shares in the glory that’s about to be revealed.) I urge the elders: Like shepherds, tend the flock of God among you. Watch over it. Don’t shepherd because you must, but do it voluntarily for God. Don’t shepherd greedily, but do it eagerly. Don’t shepherd by ruling over those entrusted to your care, but become examples to the flock. And when the chief shepherd appears, you’ll receive an unfading crown of glory.
In the same way, I urge you who are younger: accept the authority of the elders. And everyone, clothe yourselves with humility toward each other. God stands against the proud, but he gives favor to the humble.]
Therefore, humble yourselves under God’s power so that he may raise you up in the last day. Throw all your anxiety onto him, because he cares about you. Be clearheaded. Keep alert. Your accuser, the devil, is on the prowl like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith. Do so in the knowledge that your fellow believers are enduring the same suffering throughout the world. After you’ve suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, the one who called you into his eternal glory in Christ Jesus, will himself restore, empower, strengthen, and establish you. To him be power forever and always. Amen.
If you’ve read this blog long enough you’ll know of two things in today’s Lectionary reading that caught my eye—the removal of the context from the passage (the part in brackets) and the eschatological (or “end times”) emphasis on said passage.
The eschatological vibe of 1 Peter is quite clear. In chapter 1, “Peter,” writing to early Jewish followers of Jesus, wrote that salvation was “ready to be revealed” (verse 5; MOUNCE). This is important because, contrary to what a lot of us have been taught, there’s a fulfillment of Jesus predictions taking place throughout the New Testament.*
Jesus told Peter and the rest of disciples that when they saw the signs leading up to the then coming war with Rome they were to “stand and look up, for [their] salvation [was] near” (Luke 21.28; NLT; adapted). And the writer to the Hebrews confirmed this by stating that Jesus would come a second time to “bring salvation” (Hebrews 9.28; NLT). Then Paul wrote in Romans that “time [was] running out” and their “salvation [was] nearer” than when they first believed (Romans 13.11; NLT; adapted). Finally, Peter, writing much later than Paul, wrote that the original recipients of his letter weren’t going to have to wait much longer because their salvation was “ready to be revealed” (1 Peter 1.5; MOUNCE).
In the next couple of verses, Peter told his original audience that the “many trials” they were enduring would only be for a “little while” (verse 6; cf. 5.10). Those trials would test their faith “as fire tests and purifies gold” (verse 7; NLT; cf. 1 Corinthians 3.12-15) and prove it’s authenticity. Their successful outcome from those trials would bring them “much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus [the] Christ is revealed to the whole world” (verse 7; NLT; adapted). And in verse 13 above, Peter again assured them that they were sharing Christ’s suffering so that they could have “overwhelming joy when his glory is revealed.” But in chapter 5, he wrote that Christ and his glory were “about to be revealed” (verse 1; emphasis added).**
In this very chapter from our Lectionary reading, chapter 4, Peter’s even more clear. He wrote Christ “is ready to judge the living and the dead” (verse 5; cf. 2 Timothy 4.1). And just a couple of verses later he wrote, “The end of everything has come” (verse 7).
All of this to say that Peter was not expecting these things to take places hundreds or thousands of years in his future. He was expecting them to take place shortly after he penned this letter. His language couldn’t be any clearer.
The purpose of this letter was to comfort the original recipients in their “fiery trials.” Peter wrote that the time of God’s judgment had come and their “fiery trials” should be seen as the beginning of that judgment (verse 17).
Peter then addresses the “elders” (Greek: πρεσβύτερος (presbyteros), older people in the local gatherings) and encourages them to be like “shepherds” and “watch over” the people and be examples for them (5.1-4). Next he encourages the younger people to “accept the authority of the elders” and for everyone to be humble toward each other (verse 5).
The reason they need to be humble, he tells them, is because of the context that was left out of the passage—God’s judgment had started. There was chaos all around and the original recipients of his letter needed to be alert, clearheaded. Peter claimed that “the devil” was at work in their midst. I don’t think he meant the literal “devil”—a single entity—was walking around. No; I think he meant a traitor. The word used is διάβολος (diabolos) and it can mean, “a treacherous informer, a slanderer.” Jesus said that his followers would be betrayed even by members of their own families (see Luke 21.16). And, like Jesus told the disciples, Peter told his readers they needed to stand firm in their faith in the midst of persecution because the same thing was happening to other followers of Jesus throughout the world, i.e., the Roman Empire (verse 9).
To me, this letter, especially the entire context of the Lectionary passage, reads like a scene from a World War 2 movie where people are hiding Jews in their homes. At any moment, they might be discovered. Their neighbors or someone from their own family might turn them into the Nazis. So they must be diligent, alert, and clearheaded, making every effort to protect the lives they’ve been entrusted with. And, if they should be found out, they must stand in their conviction that life matters, that each human being is made in the image of God, and that evil will never win.
And just like that part of history, the context of the Lectionary reading is not our story today. Certainly, it might be the context in some parts of the world. But for us living in the United States, it’s clearly not our story. So what can we take from this?
The main point could be to remain true to our faith in Christ and our convictions, even in the face of difficulties or uncertainties. But, honestly, I think the best takeaway from this is in the paragraph right before the Lectionary passage. Peter wrote,
Above all, show sincere love to each other, because love brings about the forgiveness of many sins. Open your homes to each other without complaining. And serve each other according to the gift each person has received, as good managers of God’s diverse gifts (4.8-10).
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC
* See my series New Testament Eschatology for more about this.
** The word translated “about to” is the word μέλλω (mellō) and it means “to be about to, be on the point of” (MOUNCE). Mέλλω is a very important word. Although it’s often mistranslated (or left out completely), μέλλω is in a lot of the passages used to support a supposed current or future fulfillment of the “end times.” This means that the writers of the New Testament believed the “end times” were “about to” end in their time!