This year, during the Season of Easter we are working our way through the First Letter of Peter. This letter is historically considered to have been written by Peter to Christians in the five provinces of Asia Minor. Likely written after the fall of Jerusalem (70 a.d.) but before 90 a.d. as it does not reference the Roman’s charges against Christians for refusing to worship the emperor.
The letter gives us a good picture of these earliest churches: what it is like to convert to Christianity from one’s Greco-Roman religions (remember that in Rome religion and culture are completely interwoven – legally, economically, family systems-wise, etc.); the Roman government’s response to the burgeoning Christian communities; and the value systems these earliest churches are trying to incorporate. What we see is a developing community recognizing and accepting that they are part of the “new birth into a living hope,” incorporating into themselves and their shared lives the disciplines of a Christian life, ridding themselves of “all malice, guile, insincerity, envy and slander;” and learning what it is to be loyal to Y—H first, yet live in the tension between their rejection of some societal values and their acceptance of others.
Some of Peter’s exhortations may strike us as abrasive today such as “Slaves accept the authority of your masters with all deference… those who are kind…also those who are harsh” and “Wives…accept the authority of your husbands….” However, it helps to remember the societal starting point of these communities. Under Roman law and worldview wives and slaves were legal property, not fully “human” as men were and probably not worth messing with by the Gods. Peter has shifted the inherit nature of women and slaves into the realm of being worthy to the Christ (“…they too are heirs of the gracious gift of life….”) and to the place of power over male patriarchs (“so that, (your husbands) may be won over by their wives….”). It’s a major movement towards St. Paul’s statement that in Christ “there is no longer Jew or Greek, master or slave, male or female….” – a trajectory towards which much progress has been made but still much work is be done. As we continue the work towards Paul’s image it is worth keeping in mind Peter’s final words:
So be content with who you are, and don’t put on airs. God’s strong hand is on you; he’ll promote you at the right time. Live carefree before God; he is most careful with you.
Keep a cool head. Stay alert. The Devil is poised to pounce, and would like nothing better than to catch you napping. Keep your guard up. You’re not the only ones plunged into these hard times. It’s the same with Christians all over the world. So keep a firm grip on the faith. The suffering won’t last forever. It won’t be long before this generous God who has great plans for us in Christ—eternal and glorious plans they are!—will have you put together and on your feet for good. He gets the last word; yes, he does. (The Message)