First Thoughts on Year A Epistle Passages from the Lectionary

Easter 7

William Loader

Easter 7: 24 May  1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11

What does it mean to contemplate facing suffering at the hands of a totalitarian regime? It would certainly force you to ask whether it was worth it. Sometimes Christians deserve the ridicule they get and it is easy create one's own alienation and rejection by inappropriate and insensitive behaviour. But what if it is about the core issues of human rights and human dignity? What is it about the threat of violence if we do not toe the party line? What if our living the gospel makes powerful vested interests suspicious and they turn violent? What happens when the rule of law is set aside?

"Do not be surprised"! We might be terrified! The writer assumes those who hear this epistle are likely to face such oppression. What comfort and hope is there? Nothing more or less than the same solidarity which can get us into trouble in the first place: the story of Christ. When we face such desperate situations the Spirit is upon us, perhaps an echo of the promise that the Spirit would accompany people when they faced tribunals (4:14), the paraclete. It also echoes the prophetic vision of the coming anointed one, the Christ. We become embodied in Christ. These people will suffer for being Christians (4:16). Who can know what that means without having faced comparable situations? The pattern of Christ's life becomes the pattern of our hope as well as the pattern for our living. This applies to the desperate situations what is also an applicable model for other times. There is a consistency here.

1 Peter has many instructions directed to the community in the meantime. 5:6-11 contains some of these. It follows instructions about order and leadership in the community and about care. The humility of 5:6 belongs with what precedes. It is about working together with others and not engaging in power struggles. That, too, does not fit the pattern of the Christ. Lowliness does not mean losing one's voice. It is an abuse when leadership engages such texts to suppress questions and discourage participation. Rather it is about taking one's place, being oneself, without becoming obsessed with one's power. That giving up of self justification and self aggrandisement - at whatever level - leads us on Christ's path where compassion matters most and self giving finds its fulfilment in recognition where it counts: before God and before our deepest values.

4:7 reminds us again that God cares. The cares do not go away because we share them with God. They just lose their character as gods who so easily oppress us. They are prevented from knocking us off centre. We own them instead of their owning us. The roaring lion recalls the Psalm which gives the story of Jesus' passion so many of its scriptural echoes, including the words with which it begins: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (22:1; see 22:14). Here in 4:8 the devil is less to be seen as masquerading behind temptation as masquerading behind the trials which apparently await the readers. Thus 4:9 recalls to their mind that others too across the world of their time faced similar situations. This assumes oppressive Roman officials are widely active, probably promoting the emperor cult. The element of temptation in these trials is to abandon one's faith. Our best evidence in the secular world for this is in the letters of Pliny to the Emperor Trajan from the early second century CE about such Christians from the northern parts of Asia Minor where some of the readers of 1 Peter lived. People usually date our letter some thirty or so years earlier.

Again, in the end hope rests on "the God of grace". It has to be open-ended, because who could tell what might happen. Such hope must be so open-ended. It also reflects a willingness throughout life to be open to new possibilities. It is not defined ultimately because it is rooted in a person, the person of God.

First Reading: Easter 7: 24 May Acts 1:6-14
Gospel: Easter 7: 24 May John 17:1-11