Monday, August 18, 2014

Good Conduct, Good Deeds, Good Works (part 10)

It is then, when that which is considered precious by the world is put aside, what is “precious in God’s sight,” which is “the lasting beauty of a gentle and tranquil spirit,” and which can be seen in the willful sacrifice of honor and a willful, equalizing identification with those that do not posses honor or its trappings, that the Gospel is lived out before an amazed and confused world.  What will result from this? 

One can imagine that, having gone without these things of external beauty in the course of table fellowship, and undoubtedly experiencing the power of the Gospel and the presence of the Spirit because of this act of self-sacrifice, that a conclusion may be reached that such things of external beauty are not entirely necessary.  This could very well lead to an unforced and un-coerced sacrificial liquidation of assets once held so dear, so that the community might be benefited, the hungry fed, the thirsty given drink, and the naked clothed, while the widow and orphan receive the care that the Creator God demands from His people. 

Indeed, it is with such thoughts in mind that one can hear Peter go on to remind this church of their responsibility to engage in public benefaction as the kingdom of the covenant God, as he writes in reference to Abraham’s wife Sarah and the example she provided that “You become her children when you do what is good (providing food, drink, clothing---public benefaction) and have no fear in doing so” (3:6b). 

That last line is a strange addition.  Why would they have to fear doing good?  Well, those very things of which Peter speaks---the jewelry and fine clothes---represented a wife’s economic security in the event of her husband’s death or his decree of divorce.  Peter’s insistence that all engage in doing good works, and his insistence on a loving and preferring attitude that could cause a woman to forego that which may be her only means of subsistence apart from her husband in the event of death or divorce, is a radical demand upon the follower of the Christ.  It can be a cause for fear while also being an exercise in faith.  In accordance with this line of thinking then, Peter writes “Husbands, in the same way, treat your wives with consideration as the weaker partners” (3:7a), recognizing the potential hardship that they are creating for themselves as they do that which will allow them to also engage in good works. 

This use of weaker, quite naturally, is not to be understood as weak in the sense that raises the ire of feminists in the western world, but rather in the sense that, in that day (and today in many unfortunate cases and places) women were far more vulnerable and more likely to be subjected to oppression.  Peter takes this one step further, and in the midst of a culture that prized honor and shame, husbands are instructed to do that which will cause the last to be first and the first to be last, writing “show them honor as fellows heirs of the grace of life” (3:7b).  All of this would play out at the meal table.          

Summing up what he has just communicated to the gathered congregation, Peter writes “Finally, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, affectionate, compassionate, and humble” (3:8).  With the specter of division and social stratification (always based on honor and shame, as there was no “middle class” of which to speak, though honor would naturally gravitate towards wealth and vice versa) looming large in the background, it seems reasonable to posit that the problems being experienced in the churches were nearly universal, as these words from Peter are effectively what Paul can also be heard to be saying to the churches in Rome and Corinth.  

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