Friday, January 25, 2013

A Greeting for Social Ostracism

Peter, apostle of Jesus Christ, to the chosen, [and, kai] the strangers in the world of the diaspora in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, because of the obedience and the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: May grace and peace be multiplied to you. -1 Peter 1:1&2

The Book of Acts in the New Testament is a very exciting read. It is full of visions, miracles, riots in the streets, prison breaks and many other action packed scenes of suspense and intrigue. In fact when one reads Acts it seems as if the followers of Jesus have indeed "turned the world upside down" (Acts 17:6). The picture painted in these pages is one of following Jesus to an inevitable life of suffering and persecution. Acts reveals a couple reasons why the early Christians were marginalized and unwanted. The preaching and teaching of the Gospel of Jesus in some cities brought the selling of idols and sacrifices to a halt, disrupting and harming the local economy. This is why the silversmiths (crafters of religious idols and relics) in Ephesus start an uproar in the streets to silence Paul's ministry (Acts 19). Another form of hostility toward the Jesus movement came from the Jews who according to Acts 17 "became jealous" of Paul's success in converting so many that they actually aligned themselves with "some wicked men from the marketplace, formed a mob and set the city in an uproar"(vs.5). What is interesting is that many of the persecutions and attacks against the early church did not come from officials working for the Empire, but from the populace. One early second century graffiti discovered in a Roman guard house shows a man with a mule head being crucified while another man stands in front looking up at him with arms raised. The caption in Greek reads, "Alexmenos worships [his] god". As Joel Green points out in his excellent commentary on 1 Peter,
...this iconographical and literary evidence brings to the surface general attitudes and practices of harassment...(pg.9)

People were not happy with this new community. They were seen as people who did not belong. They were viewed as atheists who cared nothing for the gods and because of which brought with them their disfavor (Green).

1 Peter is a letter written to a region not under direct fire of the Emperor, as in the areas surrounding Rome, but to a people suffering "social ostracism as a form of persecution instigated by popular sentiment". So Peter begins his letter with a great encouragement, they are indeed strangers but they are chosen to be so. They are in exile, but their exile is temporary, for this exile is actually because of God's victory in Jesus to bring about the restoration of the cosmos and humanity. Eden is open again, even while they suffer in Babylon. Babylon was a word used to refer to Rome. John loves to use this image in his letters and especially in his 'Revelation'. They are chosen according to God's mission and vision which he has held all along (foreknowledge). God has always had a plan to see evil done away with, to have the serpent destroyed (Gen. 3:15). The Exodus of old was but a shadow of the true and ultimate rescue of the world. In Jesus all is put back to rights, God is in charge again and evil has no more foothold in which to take stand. So Peter tells the churches that they are in exile, but also have a new home, "in the sanctification of the Spirit". This is also referred to as the "life in Christ". All who follow Jesus find a new life and residence, no longer in the cycle of sin and death, no longer in the throws of evil, but a life of freedom in the Spirit of God himself (see also Ephesians 2:6).

This is all made possible because of the obedience of Jesus and the "sprinkling of his blood". The work and sacrifice of Jesus means evil has been exhausted on the cross, the just demands of God have been satisfied and humanity can again enter into fellowship with their creator. The cross of Jesus means that God is victorious over evil after all and the creation he fashioned is not hopeless and lost, but is being restored and will always be a beautiful and very good world. The death and resurrection of Jesus means that the covenant has been fulfilled revealing that God is indeed wise and faithful. Jesus was sent to do a job and he obeyed, even to his death on a cross. This was the plan from all eternity past in the Father's foreknowledge and demonstrated in the life of the church as residents as in his spirit as his chosen people.

A suffering and marginalized people, when they suffer for doing the good of the Gospel (1 Peter 4:16) will have a grace and peace in "fullest measure", for they are living as Jesus lived, they are serving a kingdom that will never fall and a God that resurrects the dead. Peter wants all who are persecuted and ostracized to know that by doing so they are bringing Eden to Babylon. This is a letter very much for us. We are the ones called to live the life of the Spirit in the here and now, to serve the Kingdom of God in a broken and twisted world. This will at times mean we become unwanted and outcasts. This means that we will be called to align ourselves with those our society says are without hope or a lost cause. For our cause is to see the movement of Jesus succeed in the complete eradication of evil from our world. To see all who are hungry and suffering, who are oppressed and hated come to the peace and grace found only in the good news that the kingdom has come in Jesus.

No comments:

Post a Comment