It is at this setting, one of a social egalitarianism represented by the church as it functions together and witnesses to the world through its table fellowship, that Peter can be heard speaking to individuals and groups seated around the meal table. After insisting that all present need to be “subject to every human institution for the Lord’s sake” (2:13a), with the use of Lord heard in the context of the Gospel’s claim and against Caesar’s claim, Peter goes on to reaffirm, without necessarily sanctioning, that there is a prevailing social order, writing “Slaves, be subject to your masters with all reverence, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are perverse” (2:18).
How does this fit with the leveling call of the Gospel and of the messianic banquet that communicates so much of the Gospel’s message? If such lengths are gone to in order to show that there is neither slave nor free, why would Peter make statements that will serve to resurrect the very distinctions that the church, through the open commensality of its meal table, is tearing down?
Naturally, the answer is to be found in love. It is that self-sacrificial love to which Peter makes reference, as he goes on to write of enduring hardships in suffering unjustly (2:19). Yes, Peter recognizes the injustice of the situation, but it is the call of the Christian, whether slave or free, to overcome injustice by acting in love towards the very master that may be the source of injustice (as one is careful to not retroject ideas concerning the experience of African slaves, which is quite a bit different from the slavery of the first century Roman world).
He then draws what would be the very obvious parallel between the position of the slave and Jesus, as he references the doing good, suffering, and enduring, which finds favor with God (2:20) and writes “since Christ also suffered for you, leaving an example for you to follow in His steps” (2:21b). Jesus provides the example of that which Peter is asking of those who find themselves as slaves, in that “When He was maligned, He did not answer back; when He suffered, He threatened no retaliation, but committed Himself to God who judges justly” (2:23).
This could only be accomplished through a love that is phenomenal in its self-emptying and in its sacrificial preference; and indeed the meal table, in many ways, can provide a glimpse of such love, as those who would be afforded considerable honor willingly take the lowest position so that others might be exalted. Indeed, is this not what is being said here when Peter goes on to say “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we may cease from sinning and live for righteousness”? (2:24a)
The tree, of course, calls attention to the lowest and most accursed place, while the call to cease from sin and live for righteousness directs the hearer’s attention to the responsibilities of the people of the Creator God to become for the world the covenant faithfulness of that God, as had been the call of Adam, of Abraham, of Israel, and of the church through its Lord. Lest believers allow themselves to be drawn back into a puerile individualism and subjective analysis of their own shortcomings in word and deed that are flippantly referred to as sin and that are only meager symptoms of a much greater malady, there must be a reminder that, in the context of the long-running plan of the Creator God’s covenant faithfulness and of human responsibility in and to that plan, that to cease from sinning will be to cease from the ongoing failure to rightly bear the divine image and its concordant responsibility to reflect the glory of the Creator God into the world.