1 peter 4.12-14
12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13But rejoice in so far as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. 14If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you.
1 peter 5.6-11
6 Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. 7Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. 8Discipline yourselves; keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. 9Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters throughout the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. 10And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. 11To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.
Firstly, it annoys me that the lectionary chops up passages and pieces them together in a new fashion. I grew up in a tradition which didn’t use the lectionary (but which had its own bad habits of cherry picking verses) and so I am not steeped in the history of it all. Can someone tell me why the lectionary cuts up passages like this?
Okay, now on to the text. This was another passage that was spiritualized in my church. It was taught that if we stood up for what we believed in, that the world would hate us. And sometimes that is true, but I think there is a difference between being persecuted for what you believe in and being persecuted for being a jerk.
There seems to be a movement of folks that are claiming persecution; but these same folks have held power in politics, in religious matters, in financial matters, etc. etc. etc. Now they are starting to lose some of their power. The oppressed are refusing to be oppressed and the oppressors are now claiming to be the new victims. They claim that they are being persecuted for standing up for what they believe in when in reality they are using their religion and their power to mask their hate and their control. That’s not what this passage is about.
This is a passage written during the time of Empire (much like our own in some ways). The community to which this letter was written was marginalized. They had given up their positions in society in order to follow Jesus. There way of life was perceived as a threat to the “good order” of the empire. They were being persecuted.
These days people are trying to make their religion law; to shove their ideas on to other people; to keep a hold of control and when they are called on it they claim to be persecuted.
Those are two very different ways of looking at the world. One wants to hold on to power and control, the other renounces power in order to serve. One helps the Empire to become more powerful and uses religious language to shore up the power of the state, the other speaks out against the injustice of the state at every turn and works to set up new structures in the shadow of the Empire. One is cozy and comfortable with government leaders, the other is feared by the government and spied on.
I think of the second portion of this passage and the admonition to stay alert because the devil is seeking whom to devour. What if the devil isn’t some malicious force outside of us, but is instead inside of us? It’s that voice that tells me it’s better to be safe than to speak out. It’s the part of me that says I should be the one holding the power and that I should do whatever I can to keep the power I have. It’s the temptation to buy into the ideas that this current way of doing things is the only way to do things and that in order to be safe and secure I need to toe the line and behave.
How long has it been since my faith was a threat to the Empire?
*as a side note, I read this article in the NY Times and felt it feeds into some of my thoughts on this lectionary text.