3d Sunday of EasterMay 8, 2011
1 Peter 1: 17-21
Christian Brothers, Iona College
“Conduct yourselves with reverence during the time of your sojourning, realizing that you were ransomed…with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Pet 1: 17-19).
Peter’s 1st Letter is addressed to “visiting strangers” and “resident aliens”—references to neither extraterrestrials nor immigrants legal or illegal; but to Christians, particularly converts from paganism, living in the precarious conditions of the mid-1st century, especially conditions of official and unofficial hostility, harassment, and persecution.
Sojourning here is the same word used in Acts (13:17) in one of Paul’s homilies with reference to the Israelites’ stay in Egypt—an apt reference when Peter, here, refers to our deliverance thru a lamb’s blood (1:19). Neither Israel in Egypt nor Peter’s contemporaries nor Christians now have a comfortable, permanent home; rather, we’re in transit, passing thru—passing thru mortal life, passing thru an unredeemed society (what some refer to as “the world, the flesh, and the devil”), passing thru a time of trial.
The Christian is different from the rest of society, separated from it, because you have been “ransomed from your futile conduct” (1:18). In the case of Peter’s addressees, most of them former pagans, the futile conduct was idolatry: “They are without knowledge who bear wooden idols and pray to gods that cannot save,” the prophet Isaiah says (45:20). In the case of all of us, the futile conduct is our sins, which seem for a moment to be life-affirming but fail to bring us more than fleeting pleasure. The blood of Christ, spattered on the wood of the cross like the paschal lamb’s blood on Israel’s doorposts, has delivered us from the angel of death, ransomed us from the grave.
The Christian is different from the rest of society, separated from it, because you invoke the impartial Judge of the world as Father (1:17). (Peter doesn’t speak of Christ as judge, as the Gospels and our Creed do.) Ransomed by Christ, belonging then to Christ, you address God as Father, like Christ. You are bonded to God in a familial relationship—no stranger, no alien, no sojourner in the household of God, but an intimate member of it. St. Paul writes to the Ephesians, “You are strangers and aliens no longer, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone” (2:19-20).
Consequently, says Peter, you have an obligation: “conduct yourselves with reverence,” or in some translations, “with fear,” but that reverential fear or awe moved by love. We’re afraid to offend those dearest to us, not out of dread but out of reverence, out of a deep feeling of respect and personal relationship. “Conduct yourselves with reverence” by faithful worship of your Father, by faithful adherence to the teachings of Jesus.
In ch. 2 Peter will be more specific, telling his addressees to get rid of malice, deceit, insincerity, envy, and slander (2:1)—timeless advice for the disciples of Jesus. Further on he’ll give directions for specific roles in the Christian household: wives (3:1-6), husbands (3:7), slaves (2:18-25), and presbyters (5:1-4). He’ll tell us to be patient, compassionate, humble, forgiving (3:8-9), loving in all things “because love covers a multitude of sins” (4:8). These are some practical ways of “conducting ourselves with reverence during our time of sojourning.”
Finally, Peter reminds us that our “faith and hope are in God, who raised [Christ] from the dead and gave him glory” (1:21). During the difficult period of our sojourning—amid the hostility and even the persecution of a pagan world, or “just” the temptations of a world so focused on consumerism, sex, power, and what people think of us—in such a world, remember that God has saved us “with the precious blood of Christ.” In him is our hope; in him is our salvation. Nothing the world has can top that. Nothing the world does can overcome that.