First Thoughts on Year A Epistle Passages from the Lectionary

Easter 3

William Loader

Easter 3: 30 April 1 Peter 1:17-23

The passage belongs closely with what precedes it. 1:13-16 is a call to holiness, shaped appropriately for those who will first hear the letter. It assumes a former lifestyle "shaped by lusts/desires" to which they gave themselves in ignorance. The notion of living ignorantly in a lifestyle driven by strong desires is as applicable now as it was then. Where 1 Peter expounds this further it speaks of greed and sexual immorality. We might say: gratification at the expense of others. Gratification, pleasure, belongs to human experience and is something good. When it means bringing pain and disadvantage - let alone poverty! - to others, it is a distortion of what it means to be human. Mostly it carries us along in ignorance. We are probably much better at being carried along than 1 Peter's readers, for while they had imperial propaganda to contend with, we face intense exposure from both politicians and from the oracles of industry and entertainment to tell us that winning is all.

This context then helps shape our understanding of its opposite: holiness. That, too, can fall victim to consumerism so that evangelism seeks to sell the superior product in a theology "balanced" by a threat to deprive others. 1:17 follows the biblical exhortation to be holy as God is holy. The focus is not the product but the person and that changes things. Already 1:13 promises "grace" (generosity, love) as the reward worth hoping for - something relational and personal. Later in 1:22 we see that genuine mutual love is the goal of this relationship. We are (re-)born into this new life to be loving people; this is what the word does to us (1:23). These opposites: indulgence at the expense of others and pleasure and fulfilment in holiness by becoming loving people set the parameters for the passage and the rest of its contents.

1:17 highlights a negative quality in God's being: no favourites, no discrimination, no corruption. Turn it upside down and it means positive regard for all. So these former Gentiles are not second rate citizens. Then, as now, the principle confronts all kinds of discrimination based on gender, race, culture, religion, sexual orientation, age, ability/disability. The ideal is you and me being genuinely human together and before God, not the chosen models of the media, be they barbies or the great white male. The other side of the coin is that this is also very confronting in another way. God is not going to play games and will not connive in our manipulations by which we so often seek to win, to impress or to survive. Straightforwardness, genuineness is what counts. That is as much true for the first hearers of this letter who experience alienation in this world so strongly that they see themselves as displaced refugees as it is for those of us who have made this world our home. We might well find this scary and fearful if we keep playing games; otherwise we will see our relation with God as our relation with God as one in which respect is paramount.

The following verses string together some traditions, which probably reflect the language of worship. The absurdity of the contrasts should not be explained away. Silver and gold will not liberate you (1:18). To speak to our age we need to say: money will not set you free. This is, of course, somewhat naive if taken as an absolute. Money (a form of human resources in abstract) is hugely significant as a means of expressing goodness and bringing help and liberation. Here is a point of slippage where faith can easily turn this contrast into a dualism which often produces believers of the kind who are saved by the blood of Jesus and are sitting on enormous wealth - but that wealth is, as they see our text, irrelevant for faith! The contrast is not between means, but about ultimate values. Against the creed of "making money" the author sets the vulnerability of a slain lamb, an image exploited more fully in Revelation 5. The Passover imagery represents Christ in his self giving love, through his life and in his death. It says that love is what liberates. It also reminds us to see this as holiness and to see the creed of greed from which we can scarcely extricate ourselves as something unholy. What will feed the human spirit? Broken bread and a poured out life. Let us go to that table.

The almost credal formulation in 1:20-21 takes an event in Jerusalem and makes it the world's myth, that is, its story-to-live-by. Beyond the love poured out from Galilee to Jerusalem, faith sees the movement of God in the world of the spirit, saying yes, acclaiming this apparent shame in the world's terms as the moment worthy of glory. This kind of God lies behind it and is the focus of our faith. Notice how 1:20-21 makes faith in God the purpose of the action. 1:22-23 then bring us back to holiness. This holiness does not find its model in wealth and power. God is not the chaplain to the imperial system then or now, despite repeated attempts at cooption. The model is the slain lamb and the concrete outcome: mutual love. You'd have thought that being born again by the living and lasting word of God could do better than that! And so we supplement God with the values that have made us well off and given us empire. Chapter 2 will tell us to abandon such tricks.

First Reading: Easter 3: 30 April Acts 2:14a, 36-41
Easter 3: 30 April Luke 24:13-35