An alternative (1 Peter 2:20)

Take a random slice of a typical week: how often do we experience something that is frustrating, aggravating, disappointing, wrong? And the way we respond: sometimes, we do well. We keep emotion in check, we keep judgment and criticism at bay. Other times? We fume. We vent. We maintain composure only to go home and kick the dog.

Which of these responses is more common?

Peter’s comment on just this sort of experience cuts into the heart of the matter:

… if you suffer for doing good and endure it, this is commendable before God (1 Peter 2:20).

It sounds like a platitude, something you’d pin to the fridge or tape to your windshield. Like all platitudes, it sounds great when life is calm, but then slides into a crack when the storms hit. Endure injustice? Spiritual, sure. But is it possible, in this day and age, when so many bosses are ridiculous, so many merchants unscrupulous, so many neighbors insensitive, so many politicians sketchy? Hmm.

The context is a social setting: slaves in the households of masters. There is a bit of the marketplace here, but Peter’s situation is not an exact parallel to the employer/employee relationship: it’s more personal, less protected by a better business bureau. One person is essentially at the mercy of another, at a disadvantage legally and economically. And that disadvantaged person–this is the one Peter speaks to. When life breaks against you, he says, bear up.

There are questions worth asking about the NT’s attitude toward the prevailing culture. For instance, how far and how fast could the apostles go in reforming what was in so many ways manipulative, chauvinistic, and anti-kingdom? But as interesting as these sociological explorations can be, it’s worth noting the consistent strategy they do employ. Love, peace, grace–these become the tools for remaking a world. They look like toothpicks when it seems jack hammers are needed, but this is what they call for, and what they themselves use.

Peter tells us why in the next breath.

To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps.

The ‘this’ might be a reference to suffering injustice, but a better read is that Peter means a response of peace. Life includes a great deal of suffering–of varying kinds and intensity–and not many need a special calling to experience more of what life already dishes out. But the way of peace: this does not come naturally. We need reminders that this is the way of Jesus, the way we have been invited–called–to follow.

Again, Peter links that response of peace to Jesus’ experience:

When they hurled insults at Him, He did not retaliate; when He suffered, He made no threats. Instead, he entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly.

That last bit catches me. Was Jesus waiting for the day when the scales would tip in His favor? Did He put up with what He experienced, knowing that soon, His tormentors would get theirs? His word from the cross–Father, forgive them–would suggest otherwise. And Peter would have imbibed that lesson, too. The apostle’s appeal to Jesus’ trust has to do with why Jesus could choose peace over retaliation: it’s rooted in the Father’s nature and character. Not that the Father is a bodyguard who will swoop down to crush the miscreants; rather, that the Father knows. He knows that what the bullies say–about Jesus, about us–how the bullies act: their words and deeds are neither true nor good. And we who experience such interpretations of life need not bend to agree with them. We can instead hold to a different view; we can fold into the way God sees things. We can choose, and live in, peace, love, and grace.

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