This passage from First Peter always reminds me of the the old lyric, “Money can’t buy love.” Neither can political power. What God did for humanity in His Son Jesus Christ out of His infinite love for us, could not have been purchased with all the gold, silver, or jewels that the world could produce. Such things, no matter how precious they appear to be, are as nothing compared to the priceless Blood of Christ.
Peter is addressing Gentile converts in Asia Minor in this letter, some of whom had been evangelized by Paul. He is encouraging them to remain faithful to the things that they have learned, that they acquiesced to when they were baptized into the faith. He is admonishing them to keep the beliefs and to continue conducting themselves in the manners appropriate to the Christian life, even though they are threatened daily with persecution. He is inspiring them to keep the faith even though they are feeling the pangs of alienation from their former ways and from the society around them. We are to hear these words personally addressed to us as well. Though there are almost two thousand years between us and those early Christians Peter is writing to, we know these same feelings and the temptations to belong, to do whatever is necessary to avoid being persecuted for our faith. Peter reminds us here that the suffering and death of Jesus Christ serve both as the means to our salvation and as an example to us.
Neither monetary power, nor precious metals and jewels could buy our freedom and our salvation. It was only the blood that Jesus so willingly shed for us on the cross that was precious enough to win our salvation. In this one fact, we who are baptized Christians, are challenged to respond willingly to the central and most important message of Jesus: “Love one another as I have loved you.” Those early Christians were threatened with bloody persecution for their faith every day. They were the lambs who, like Christ, boldly declared their faith to those around them by living lives of Christ-like compassion, service to the poor, the weary, and the disenfranchised. They loved one another as Jesus loved them and for this they were despised, and persecuted, even unto death. When they were struck, they turned their cheeks to their tormentors. They submitted, like Christ, to the persecutors swords, to the lions in the coliseum. And, to their persecutors utter amazement, they prayed for their persecutors saying, “Lord forgive them for they know not what they do.” It was their courageous and bloody witness (martyrdom) that brought countless others to the faith.
We must not take this lightly, or misinterpret this message. Christ’s willing suffering and that of his followers, was done out of a pure love for God, not out of a false bravado. It was not done in the name of a vengeful God, or a tyrant God. The God of Jesus does not demand the death of those who will not follow him. He allows them the freedom of their wills. He made us free and does not deny us that freedom, even if we abuse it. He is no ideologue. He does not force us to obey him out of fear. Rather, he asks us to love all others and, if necessary, to sacrifice everything for them out of that love, just as he did for us. Those who kill the innocent, or abuse the humanity of others in God’s name, just because they do not submit to their interpretation of God, are not of God. This was true for those Christians who killed one another during and after Reformation times, both Catholic and Protestant, and it is true for those radicalized Muslims today who kill the innocent, or those of other faiths, in the name of Allah. When evil is done in God’s name it is always, and in every case, blasphemy and nothing else. “[Only] by this will everyone know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35)
Lord God, give us the depth of faith and the courage to love all others as you loved us in Jesus Christ. We love you, but we are also weak. We ask you, therefore, to help us bear our “persecutions” like saints, so that we can be true witnesses, sure examples, of your love at work in the world today. We ask this in your name, Jesus. Amen!
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