Monday, August 18, 2014

Good Conduct, Good Deeds, Good Works (part 9)

At the same time, all of these considerations serve as a reminder of just how important a role food and considerations about food played in the ancient world (and in many parts of the world today), in which gaining one’s sustenance is actually the primary, daily concern.  When work is engaged upon primarily to obtain food for self and family, and secondarily to meet the remainder of life’s basic needs, it is not difficult to assert that a divergent set of priorities will be in effect. 

Little wonder then that the church’s meal table, open to all and for all to share equally, with the wealthier and more well-to-do providing for all while sharing equally with all with no expectation of receiving an increase in their honor standing in exchange for the provision (ideally), was a table that served to draw people in, while also being ripe for corruption and a new and more insidious form of oppression---whether wantonly or through neglect, by ingrained social forces and sensibilities.  Little wonder then, that the stories of Jesus’ miraculous feedings, with enough for all and to spare, with all sharing equally at the hand of the One that represents the church (and that the church represents) gained such prominence in the community that called Jesus Lord and for whom the meal table was a prominent feature. 

Continuing then with this Petrine analysis, maintaining an examination of the third chapter, and re-grasping the handle of mutual self-sacrificial love that undergirds the call for wives to be subject to their husbands, Peter can be heard moving to a directive to “Let your beauty not be external---the braiding of hair and wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes---but the inner person of the heart, the lasting beauty of a gentle and tranquil spirit, which is precious in God’s sight” (3:3-4).  These words are heard, of course, in the context of table fellowship.

Apart from the fact that the outward appearance can most certainly reflect the inward disposition, it is probably safe to say that Peter’s concern here is not with what appears on the surface.  What he is concerned about is the other-preferring love that is to be on display at the church’s meal table, which will then, because of the Gospel’s transformational power combined with the power and deterministic capacity of the meal table, be translated into other-preferring actions in and for the community (the world) in which the Christians find themselves. 

How can one make this conclusion? Here, Peter calls for the wealthier women in the church community---those that can avail themselves of the costly braiding of hair (in which jewels, precious metals, and other ornamentations would be woven into the hair), gold jewelry, and fine clothes---to consider those in their church community that are far less fortunate than they when it comes to such things. 

This is not a blanket directive, nor should it be considered a ban or a condemnation of these types of things.  Rather, it is an inducement from Peter to this church to act in love towards one another.  In this case, Peter is asking the wealthier women of the church---the women who would, though they had no real honor of their own, share in the honor of their husband, dressing and presenting themselves accordingly---to leave such things aside when they gather with their fellow believers and participate at meals together.  By removing the trappings of honor and dignity that garner the respect and admiration of the world, which can serve, albeit perhaps unintentionally, to keep true and undivided fellowship from taking place, the “inner person of the heart” comes to the fore, as love and respect for one’s fellow Christian is demonstrated. 

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