Suffering Under A Microscope

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When we hear about following in someone’s footsteps, we think of doing that in the context of what is good for the follower’s well being. Maybe it is success in being a good parent, friend or worker.  We basically want to do better and not through a road of suffering.  

 

Simon Peter was schooled otherwise.  He had just been promoted to pope by Jesus when he tries to straighten out Jesus from this crazy idea of going to the cross.  Jesus straightens him out instead.  About a few months later, Jesus tells Peter that he would have his own path of martyrdom.  He would carry the standard of the life-changing good news of God’s love into this life and the next with a signature of words and blood.  By the time Peter is older, he has grown to embrace suffering for God and His ways as a blessing and not a curse.  

 

 

1 Peter 2:20-25

20 For what credit is it, if when you do wrong and are beaten for it you take it patiently? But if when you do right and suffer for it you take it patiently, you have God’s approval. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin; no guile was found on his lips. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he trusted to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.

But if when you do right and suffer for it you take it patiently, you have God’s approval

I do not like the words “when you do right and suffer”.  But truth is non-negotiable for those who want to walk in both love and truth.  The fact is that if you consistently want to do right with God as your audience, some of the decisions you make will not be popular. It will be popular to help the homeless, but it will not be popular to say that they only way to the Father is through Jesus.  We sometimes have to choose God’s approval and endure guilt trips or far worse in a culture flooded with what Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger calls “the tyranny of moral relativism”.  

because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

“Should” is another word that I would not like to see or just water down with “it must mean something else in the Greek”.  But the Bible says often that we should expect to suffer as a means to being in step with Jesus’ identity.  A few are “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Phillipians 3:10-11). Another is “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10-11).  

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.

Yes, suffering for the scandal of following Christ is bad in the moment but it gets better and starting in this life.  That is, if we will embrace the richness of being spiritually blessed (Ephesians 1:3).   

For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.

Peter may be mentioning this because of the nature of free will and taking for granted how Jesus relates to us through our sufferings.  What we learn in all of this passage that should ground his readers and us are three things.  

1: Jesus has suffered for us and knows how we feel.  He is not asking us to suffer where He had it easy.  

2: We have returned to Jesus by his distinct call.  This is two-fold because Jesus said that His sheep know His voice but also in a community context.  The Church is the ekklesia and the Greek for that is split up in meaning to be a called out community unto a purpose.  Our Shepherd calls us to Himself in relationship. 

3:  The Guardian part is loaded.  Some Bible translations use the word Bishop and some Overseer.  Bishop makes sense because He is the Head of the Church Universal.  Overseer makes sense because the original Greek works as a cognate with “over-scope”.  We can experience Jesus being the one who does that “over-scope” every time we come to Him tired of our straying.  The Sacrament of Reconciliation works as something very special that Christ installed through the Magisterium to accomplish that in a community and fuller formation process.  

So what are we waiting for?  We are not called to be masochists but when those times comes to suffer of Jesus, let’s remember who called us, the life of holiness He called us to, and let the redemptive nature of suffering work though us unto our Lord.   

 

Going Non-Polar

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Being polarized has a bad connotation. Someone or some people being at an extreme position, a subjective reading, is a matter of spoiling the comfort of everyone being in moderation.

 

            But there are good ways to be polarized. Mother Theresa was polarized into helping the poor. She was extreme and even made the powerful and comfortable be very uncomfortable.

 

            But for better or worse Christians in America are known a lot for politics and what they are against or for. Often the opinion is in the individuals heart and then they claim an issue or even a party that will be a niche for their passions. They may find a ballot or political party and say “That is my ticket, and therefore God’s ticket!”

 

            The disciples of Jesus were not immune to that. When they, with Jesus, were not well received by the Samaritans they asked about fire being called on them from heaven. Jesus said, “You know not what spirit you are of.” Oops.

 

            Peter learned something about that Oops about the Others. From his experience he prescribes to the Church an approach to the Others with inclusiveness, integrity, wisdom about what grace is for and being impartial. He hits them with these principles here.  

 

 

1 Peter 2:12-17

2:12 Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that, though they malign you as evildoers, they may see your honorable deeds and glorify God when he comes to judge.

13 For the Lord’s sake accept the authority of every human institution, whether of the emperor as supreme, 14 or of governors, as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right. 15 For it is God’s will that by doing right you should silence the ignorance of the foolish. 16 As servants of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil. 17 Honor everyone. Love the family of believers. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

they may see your honorable deeds and glorify God when he comes to judge… For it is God’s will that by doing right you should silence the ignorance of the foolish..

            This is powerful because the outreach of Christians can be muddled if it is represented only by words or dogma. Even sacred dogma. “Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary use words.” A quote often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi. Being maligned by unbelievers happens in the public area. But good deeds rarely goes unnoticed.

 

accept the authority of every human institution…as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right.

 

            Many years ago I was in a faith community that prayed for President Bill Clinton and referred to him as the Lord’s anointed servant. A few years later I got pushback on that from very partisan, republican, Christian friends. They questioned the validity of that faith community based on such strong, approving language.

 

            My responses were spiritual and pragmatic:

1-    God is in charge of everyone being in a place of authority.

2-    No political party has a monopoly of God’s ways.

3-    Though my old friends in the faith community believed differently on certain issues, they saw how God could use whoever He wants to use. Plus the term “anointed servant” is used in the old testament about kings that were not directly God-fearing.

 

           

As servants of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil.

 

            We are accountable to God, who is holy, to not be “holier-than-thou”. In other words, we are equals in intrinsic value to God and no one is free to sin against god or their neighbor due to an experience. Being made whole by God, which is what salvation is really about, entails an ongoing process. If we submit to God willingly while being free from sin, we will not think we are above judgment.

 

Honor everyone.

            You mean I can’t carry a sign that says, “God hates fags?” Hmmm. You know not what spirit you are of could be a good response.

Love the family of believers.

            We are called to family. Families even disagree, but a good one keeps on loving.

Fear God.

            This is not like fear of an abusive parent. He is so awesome, and He is love, what a sad thing to sin against love? We should be so mindful of that that we do not sin against love. The more extreme we are on that living reality, the more we will think above, who is in office or which political party is in power. If a community that calls itself Christian could be intentional about that, what would they look like to a skeptical or even cynical world?

Rallying Cry

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            “The main things is that you keep the main thing the main thing.” Overly simplistic saying from Germany I know, but applies when a group gets sucked into the minutia of how to keep a group going. Complications of the politics of a group can be very distracting and can tax our attention from remembering what the rallying cry is. Every group needs that rallying cry.

 

            The Church is no exception. Those that call themselves Christian are not supposed to just have an over and done with spiritual event at conversion but continue in it and never just alone. Christians are supposed to commune of Christ and with each other. And both aspects not in a way that is dry or intellectual.

 

            Simon Peter, who we have seen to be a work of progress while in progress, hits this theme here.  

 

 

1 Peter 2:4-9

4 Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and 5 like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For it stands in scripture:

“See, I am laying in Zion a stone,
 a cornerstone chosen and precious;
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

7 To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe,

“The stone that the builders rejected
 has become the very head of the corner,”

8 and “A stone that makes them stumble,
 and a rock that makes them fall.”

They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

            Peter had been learning for years in the context of the Holy Spirit and community that Jesus is living through His followers with paradoxical, familial and liturgical imagery.

 

            though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight,

 

            This is a fine point on how to perceive Jesus from a discipleship perspective. Before we can take up our cross we should appreciate the paradox that Jesus was favored by God but rejected by man. The lesson for the young Church was that rejection of man does not take away the value of God’s love for us.

 

            and 5 like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house

 

That “and” depends on us resting on knowing how precious we are because Christ is in our hearts.

 

            But notice the repeated term of “living” in this same passage. There are two reasons for this, I suspect, that Peter is motivated by. First, his famous confession of Jesus was that He was “The Christ, the Son of the living God.” If we rest on Christ, the solid cornerstone, then the living nature of His sonship, anointing and divine nature is appropriated to us. And it is indeed a rest because the wording is passive with “let yourself….”

           

to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

 

            But just because we can be in a rest, that does not mean that we don’t respond in context of the cross. It is easy to think that only someone special with robes can direct a concentrated offering of worship to God. Though there is clearly a mandate for a liturgical priesthood, anyone who is a Christian is a priest by the graces of baptism. And we do not do that by the merits of our works alone but by the faith and work infused especially in the Eucharist: receiving Christ’s body, blood, soul and divinity.

 

            Am I making a jump? There is some light in the passage below.

 

Phillipians 4:5 “Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

 

The connection is in thanksgiving. The primary language of worship to God is in with that and went by the Greek word eucharistia. Why is the Lord near? The natural habitat for scripture in in the mass where the body of the Lord is discerned and consumed. But for those that have dull vision, then the experience is blurry at best and there is no response to His grace.

 

            So next Pope Peter gets into the details even deeper (see last blog) on what the identity of the gospel is on a macro level for those who receive it.

 

 But you are a chosen race,

            We are used to racial concepts as a social construct. But the social construct that should result where the gospel hits is an equal reconciliation with God and each other. “Red, and yellow, black and white we are precious in His sight”.

a royal priesthood,

            There is the liturgical reference again. But this time it has a reference of authority.             We should not take the sacrifice of Jesus as savior if we remember He is first Lord.  

a holy nation,

            A nation has borders, language and culture. Our border is the line of redemption. Our language is thanksgiving in the mass and our culture is found in the debt to love.

God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

            This points to another corporate mission of all believers whether they are formal ministers or not: to be ambassadors for outreach. We should be so transformed that we point to Jesus through living out the calling we have.

            It all starts with coming to Him. What is stopping us?

Good news Or Faux-Good News?

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         Good news could be in the eye of the beholder. It can depend on who is telling it, the context of it and, of course, the one hearing it.

 

         One area where we like to have good news is when there is a sense of order in our lives and particularly in how people are in relationship with one another. News of a change that comes upon us that we did not ask for can be stressful and something that can be empowering if it is a natural change for unity but bad if it is unnatural and forced on us.

 

         Such was the case with a Roman evangelist. Now when I say evangelist the image that could come to mind would be someone like Billy Graham. It is a good image of a man that came to cities with a gospel of peace that changes lives for the better if they yield to it. That message is about recognizing the agenda of God expressed in Jesus Christ with his commandment to love God and love one another. Those are elements of good news that are for the better, are natural and we will want to yield to but for hardness of heart.

 

         But that is not the image of a Roman evangelist when that term was first used. Evangelist comes from evangelion, which first meant good news: the Romans just beat a city or country in battle. The evangelist came in from Rome not as an ambassador of a nation but as the one telling the defeated that there will be a new law and order. The conquered will get along with the conquerors and with each other or else there would be grave consequences. Long live the Empire! Resistance is futile (sorry, I couldn’t resist). Very secular and very effective.

 

         A new mode of evangelization is through post-modern prisms like moral relativism (feet firmly planted in mid-air), critical theory (centering on the macro contexts of race, gender and class at the expense of dealing with personal responsibility) and materialism. Do they work? Do people get along better with the bombardment of media, legislation and man-made globalization?

 

         As I am now finishing my education as a social worker, I can tell you that the individual and the human race is made for the gospel of Jesus Christ to transform us from hurting ourselves and each other. The gospel of peace commands us to repent and invites us into a kingdom based in heaven and represented by a Church. The modern vain attempts noted above, in my view, do not work.

 

         We can say no to God wanting to “conquer” our hearts, but what if we say yes? Is being a Christian intrinsically about being beaten down in mind and heart? It would take too much space for this passage here to explain no, but I will anchor the answers to that by looking at something an ex-fisherman and first pope said once in his first papal encyclical.  

 

1 Peter 1:22-25

22 Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth[a] so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply[b] from the heart.[c] 23 You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.[d] 24 For

“All flesh is like grass
and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers,
    and the flower falls,

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but the word of the Lord endures forever.”

That word is the good news that was announced to you.

 

Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth

         It is taken for granted that one who has become a Christian has been changed deeper than skin level and obey truth as a reality.

so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart.

         Here is the fruit of sincerity. This is how it is supposed to look in faith communities centered on Jesus. Have I been in one and not seen it? The call of the gospel that transforms should make us want to look at ourselves first. How can I be responsible in love?

That word is the good news that was announced to you.

         For it to keep living in us is a choice. May we yield to it, and in love, joyfully with one another.

 

We Could All Spare Some Change

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            In over a year of blogging about Peter is has been a time of many conversions. It is easy to think I can only be talking about a multitude of persons coming into their own individual conversions.

            But that does not have to be the case. When you look at Peter, or ourselves, the spiritual journey of even the most ardent seeker is one of steps forward and backward, having a part of the map that seems clear but being redirected by the voice of the GPS’s in our lives (e.g. circumstances, trusted loved ones, honored mentors).

            Change is always here to stay despite our self-delusions at times that we own a piece of perfection. Whether we are self-deluded by the ease of moral relativism or an experience of religion that loses center of God’s power to change, we are all called to make a crucial turn from our complacency and renew our perspective that we are made for our Creator. Over time Simon Peter matured in knowing that fact. His modern successor says that he personally is a sinner and never forgets it.  

1 Peter 1:14-19

New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)

14 Like obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance. 15 Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; 16 for it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

17 If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile. 18 You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish.

1 Peter 1:14-19

14 Like obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance.

            You did not know what you did was wrong before, but you know now. Knowledge is power—to change.

15 Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; 16 for it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

            Four-letter word I know. In this post-modern age we think we are called first to be happy. Just watch Joel Osteen and you will be reminded of the verse “Blessed are those who are already happy.” Oh, that’s right, it is “Blessed are those who mourn.”

            Mourning turns to repentance when we are captivated by Jesus as the Lamb (more on that below). Repentance means that you call yourself on your filth (the fearless moral inventory of AA is on track) and ask for forgiveness. The forgiveness is what makes us holy.

17 If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile.

            “But how about if I keep Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior only? I promise to think of Him highly. Questioning my own acts and motives keeps me emotionally safe and comfortable.”  

            Safety and comfort is the problem if your intent is to be a disciple of Jesus. Reverent fear does not deny His grace but appreciate the tenuous line of walking away from it. To start with Jesus as Lord is great, so do whatever He asks. If it is to take time to feed the homeless, serve them as if you are serving Jesus Himself, because you are. If it is to avoid even being close to temptation for your historical addiction or compulsion, then drive around the block and talk to Him. He will never just judge you by your deeds without giving you a way out.  

18 You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish.

            “Oh, do you have to say blood? That is such a graphic term. Why be reminded about what was His job and not my thing?”

            It always comes back to love. The average sacrificial lamb is not willing with full consent but Jesus allowed Himself to be led to the cross and was out of love. Without love, the blood is without value. And if we take from this passage a call to holiness that does not reinforce that our holy Father is our loving Father then His suffering and our working it out will be unendurable.

            Paul had an understanding of this being worked out in love ultimately from the personal Lord and Savior dimension to a broader one for the journey believers share together.

Colossians 1:24 “I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.”

            Let us love Jesus enough to change, repent, confess, suffer and, in times of refreshing by the Holy Spirit, rejoice!