Thursday, August 14, 2014

Good Conduct, Good Deeds, Good Works (part 5)

As Peter speaks through his letter to a group of people from all walks of life, consisting of slave and free, Jew and Gentile, male and female, and even those who might be attaching themselves to the Christian community because they have notions of revolution and are drawn to a community that talks about a new kingdom, a new king, and a new way of living, he goes on to say “Live as free people, not using your freedom as a pretext for evil, but as God’s slaves.  Honor all people, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the king”  (2:16-17).  Free people who are slaves?  Again, this represents a new way of living, and it is learned at the meal table of the elected family of the God of Israel. 

It is relatively easy to hear the words “Honor all people” in modern times, especially in the western world in which most people (in theory) embrace the notion that all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, and in doing so to miss out on the incredibly radical and earth-shattering nature of this concept.  The use of “honor” is crucial.  With these words being spoken in a world that was attuned to the pursuit of honor as the pursuit of status in the world, with this pursuit of honor providing justification for all manner of selfish and self-centered activities, the idea of honoring all people equally, even to the point of living as slaves (the least honorable), was a foreign concept. 

Building on that sensibility, and doing so in a world in which lines were drawn between the civilized people of the Roman empire and the “barbarian” hordes of those that refused to accede to the divinely backed pretensions of Roman hegemony and the eternal nature of its presumably beneficient kingdom, the notion of honoring all people equally would have been dismissed out of hand.  Honor was too valuable to be apportioned out to those that were not truly deserving. 

Additionally, any community that hailed a different king, let alone a King that was superior to all kings of the earth, would have been hard pressed to continue honoring the Roman emperor, especially considering the fact that the Christians were undergoing much persecution owing directly to their counter-imperial claims.  Therefore, the universal directive to honor the king would necessitate a preferring love that would be difficult to manage.  Achieving this lofty ideal would be yet another evidence of the transformative power of the Gospel, so how could the church bring about such an attainment?  The answer brings one back to the table. 

The powerful social institution of the meal table, which maintains some of its power even in this day (though most tend to miss it), can be the basis for societal transformation and the establishment of the kingdom of heaven, just as it was and can also be the basis for maintaining the societal status quo.  If the idea of the messianic banquet is embraced, and if the church attempts to be the place (the overlap of heaven and earth) where “people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and take their places at the banquet table in the kingdom of God” and “some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last” (Luke 12:29-30), then Peter’s directive, which is a component of the overall Scriptural missive, will not be impossible to achieve.     

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