Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Context is everything

I received the lectionary texts for this Sunday morning from my church, and had the reading from Peter on my mind when I had a chance to post this morning. However, the lectionary text I found on-line was different from the one that had set me thinking, and while I was reading one text, I was thinking about the other, which set up some cognitive dissonance I couldn't quite resolve, try as I might. Now I see why. Here is the text I had in mind:

1 Peter 3:8-18
All of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called--that you might inherit a blessing. For "Those who desire life and desire to see good days, let them keep their tongues from evil and their lips from speaking deceit; let them turn away from evil and do good; let them seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil." Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed.

Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God's will, than to suffer for doing evil. For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit.
Now there's a different kettle of fish, and the emphasis where I was trying to place it this morning: unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind. And repaying evil, with a blessing. Which I think speaks clearly to the question of exclusion.

Why do we ever exclude anyone, except to repay them for "evil"? Either for what they have done already, or what we expect them to do, because we expect some bad, some defiling thing, from them? And how should we repay that, except with a blessing? "Now who will you harm if you are eager to do what is good?" Who, indeed? And where are we allowed to draw the line, and say: "This I cannot do, because even though it is a good, it is not a good I can do?" After all, the story of Abraham is exactly the opposite: Abraham, following the word of God, means to slay Isaac. Following God's word is good, but the result is not. And Jacob cheats Esau, and yet it is Jacob who wrestles with the angel (another good? or bad?) and wins the blessing, though it is the most mixed blessing of all (he earns a new name, Israel, which means "struggles with God"). So God makes good come of evil, or at least of not good, and yet are we ever allowed to decide what is good, and not good? Or are we only to seek the good, and do that always, and take our chance that it is evil?

Which doesn't quite answer either, does it? Except seeking good, is seeking peace; seeking peace and pursuing it. And while excluding people from the circle may seem the pursuit of peace, it is clearly just the opposite.

I prefer the tone of Peter's letter, and of Isaiah, and the Psalm:

When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst, I the LORD will answer them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them. I will open rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water. I will put in the wilderness the cedar, the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive; I will set in the desert the cypress, the plane and the pine together, so that all may see and know, all may consider and understand, that the hand of the LORD has done this, the Holy One of Israel has created it. (Isaiah 41:17-20)

Psalm 148:7-14

7 Praise the LORD from the earth,
you sea-monsters and all deeps;

8 Fire and hail, snow and fog,
tempestuous wind, doing his will;

9 Mountains and all hills,
fruit trees and all cedars;

10 Wild beasts and all cattle,
creeping things and winged birds;

11 Kings of the earth and all peoples,
princes and all rulers of the world;

12 Young men and maidens,
old and young together.

13 Let them praise the Name of the LORD,
for his Name only is exalted, his splendor is over earth and heaven.

14 He has raised up strength for his people and praise for all his loyal servants,
the children of Israel, a people who are near him. Hallelujah!

No comments:

Post a Comment