Monday, 8 August 2022

Striving for Justice

A sermon for Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church 
14 August 2022

Parable of the Unjust Judge by John Everett Millais (1863)

Luke 18:1-8
Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 
2 He said, "In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people.  3 In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, 'Grant me justice against my opponent.' 
4 For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, 'Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone,  5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.'" 
6 And the Lord said, "Listen to what the unjust judge says.  7 And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 
8 I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them.
And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?"
 
Genesis 32:24-29
Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 
25 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob's hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 
26 Then he said, "Let me go, for the day is breaking." But Jacob said, "I will not let you go, unless you bless me." 
27 So he said to him, "What is your name?" And he said, "Jacob." 
28 Then the man said, "You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed." 
29 Then Jacob asked him, "Please tell me your name." But he said, "Why is it that you ask my name?" And there he blessed him.

 
Striving for justice
 
Let me tell you the story of Abdul Durrant; [1]
            a Black British Muslim man who in 2001 was working nights
            as a cleaner at HSBC’s headquarters in Canary Wharf.
 
Every evening cleaned the offices of the Chairman who earned £2 million a year,
            whilst he himself earned only £4.50 per hour.
 
Having connected with others to buy shares,
            Abdul came not as a cleaner, but as a shareholder to the company’s AGM
and nervously stood up in front of all the investors and executives
            to say to the Chairman
 
“We work in the same office, but we live in different worlds.
            Let me tell you what it’s like to work on £4.50 an hour and bring up six children.”
 
Within 18 months, HSBC and other major banks signed up to pay a Living Wage.
 
The organisation that connected Abdul with others,
            to enable them to become shareholders and speak with the Chairman,
                        was, of course, London Citizens,
            which we are part of as a church here at Bloomsbury.
 
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again,
            the community organising method they use to bring about social transformation
is the most effective way I’ve come across
            of taking action to build justice in our city and our country.
 
Through them, the voices of the poor are amplified,
            the powerful voices of oppression are called to account,
and our fervent prayers for justice
            begin to take shape in the world around us.
 
Which brings me to our parable for this morning from Luke’s gospel,
            the story of a poor widow’s plight
                        as she is pitted against the indifference
            of a powerful representative
                        of an even more powerful institution.
 
This is a simple parable, with only two characters,
            there is the widow,
                        who we are told is a victim of injustice,
            and there is the judge,
                        who we are told neither feared God nor had respect for people.
 
The judge is a representative of the first century Jewish legal system,
            which was specifically charged under the Hebrew Bible’s law code,
                        with the care of the vulnerable within Jewish society,
                        including widows and orphans (cf. Deut 10.18; 14.29 etc).
 
But it quickly becomes clear
            that he is not exercising his power and responsibility as he should.
 
There are two schools of thought in interpreting this parable,
            which tend to occupy the pens of the various commentators on it.
 
One school of thought says that this judge
            is to be seen as a kind of inverted representation of God.
And that whilst we might not see God as capricious or indifferent,
            nonetheless, the point is made that if we persist in prayer as the widow did,
            then surely God will eventually hear us, and answer our prayers.
 
Needless to say, this is a problematic reading,
            because it raises for us all sorts of questions as to why it might be
                        that God would answer our prayers on the tenth,
                                    or hundredth, time of asking,
                        but not on the first.
 
            What is it that has changed in the intervening time?
                        Is it that God needs badgering into action?
 
            Is it possible that God is in fact far more unpredictable or fickle
                        than many of us would like to believe?
 
But then there is a second school of thought about this parable,
            which draws attention to the Jewish rhetorical technique
            of arguing from the lesser to the greater.
 
Such arguments were common within Judaism,
            and can be found in many other places elsewhere in the Bible,
                        (cf. Mt 7.11; 10.25; 12.12; Lk 12.24, 28; Rom 11.12, 24; 2 Cor 3.8; Heb 9.14)
            usually introduced by the phrase ‘how much more’.
 
So, for example, in Matthew 7:11  we find Jesus saying:
            If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children,
            how much more will your Father in heaven
            give good things to those who ask him!
 
By this reading of our parable, the unjust judge isn’t God,
            or even an inverted representation of God.
 
Rather, the point is made by suggesting an argument from the lesser to the greater:
            If even an unjust judge grants justice eventually,
                        how much more does God long to grant the prayers
                        of those who cry to him day and night.
 
But the lesson remains uncomfortably similar to the first reading,
            which is that we should continue to persist in prayer
                        and hopefully God will eventually get round to answering us,
                        even if at the moment God seems to be ignoring us.
 
After all, we tell ourselves,
            surely God is much more motivated to do so
            than the unjust judge in the parable.
 
But, you know, I find this second reading almost as problematic as the first,
            because it still takes us no closer
                        to an understanding of why it might be
            that God, who of course is nothing like the judge,
                        is still doing such a good impression of him
                        by ignoring our prayers!
 
So, I want to suggest a different way of reading this parable,
            and I think it’s a way of approaching it which might get us a bit closer
            to the persistent and faithful struggle embodied by the widow,
                        to see the world transformed
                        in the name of the in-breaking kingdom of heaven.
 
The way I read this parable, the unjust judge is not God
            he’s not even an inverted pastiche of God.
 
Rather, the judge represents
            the oppressive forces of power at work in the world.
 
This unjust judge who, we are told, has no fear of God nor respect for anyone,
            represents those systems and structures
                        which have lost sight of their God-given intent,
            and have become instead indifferent
                        to the plight of the poor and the vulnerable.
 
These structures could be governments,
            indifferent to the plight of those at the bottom end of society,
                        seeking to restrict benefits and cut services
                        in the interest of political expediency or ideological pragmatism.
 
They could be businesses or international financial markets,
            indifferent to the exploitative or oppressive effects
                        that their endless quest for profit has
                        upon those who find themselves standing in the way of the bottom line.
 
They could be those systems specifically charged with protecting the vulnerable
                        such as the police, the army, or the justice systems,
            when those systems become indifferent to the causes
                        that they have been established to champion.
 
            From institutional racism to military dictatorships,
                        it is all too easy for power to breed corruption.
 
And this, of course, is why Jesus used the image of a judge in his parable:
            he is a representative of the very profession
            that should have stood up for the impoverished widow.
 
But beyond these large institutions and their tendency to systemic indifference,
            the unjust judge could be you, and he could be me.
 
This is especially true those of us who have money and power.
            Because we too face choices
                        as to what we will do with that which is ours to hold.
 
            We too must make choices about who to vote for,
                        or where to invest our money:
                        which pension scheme or hedge fund to endorse.
 
            And it begs a question of us:
                        will we make our choices based on what’s best for us and ours?
            Or will we hear the voice of the widow at the door,
                        crying out for justice, crying to us for righteousness?
 
In Jesus’ parable, the widow’s continual
            and perseverant approach to the indifferent judge,
is effective in the end,
            because her weakness and vulnerability ultimately call him to account,
            leaving him little option but to act to bring her justice.
 
In many ways this is the path of nonviolent resistance.
            It has echoes of Ghandi, of Martin Luther King, of Rosa Parkes.
 
With the disempowered presenting themselves again and again,
            bearing testimony in their own bodies to the injustices they have suffered,
            holding the world to account that the world might be transformed.
 
Do you know the wonderful song ‘The Mothers of the Disappeared’
            by the Irish rock group U2, from their 1987 album The Joshua Tree?
 
It was inspired by lead singer Bono's experiences in Nicaragua and El Salvador
            and it gives voice to the pain of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo,
                        a group of women whose children had been "disappeared"
                        by the Argentine and Chilean dictatorships.
 
These women simply never stopped asking the authorities,
            what had happened to their children.
 
Through persistence and pain they eventually got some answers,
            with many of their children confirmed dead,
            but others found to have been adopted out or otherwise re-housed.
 
Some people have now been brought to justice,
            and still the mothers keep asking the questions.

And so we’re back to Jesus’ parable of the persistent widow,
            which, according to Luke’s introduction of it (v.1), is actually about two things.

Firstly, it is about the need to pray always,
            but secondly it is about not losing heart.
 
This parable is not just about praying for justice,
            or about interceding for the poor.
 
It’s about taking action,
            it’s about standing alongside the widow of Jesus’ story.
It’s about joining our voices with hers,
            in persistently challenging the forces that oppress and misuse power.
 
The lesson of this parable isn’t just that 'even a bad judge will give in occasionally'
            it's rather that 'even a poor widow
                        can effectively challenge the powers that be
                        in the cause of justice and righteousness'
 
And it raises for us the uncomfortable question of whether, in fact,
            it may be that the only effective challenge to oppressive and exploitative powers
                        can come from the voice of the poor,
because it’s only when the powers are brought face-to-face
            with the dehumanising effects of their actions
            that they can be held to account and enabled to change.
 
Those of us who would challenge the powers-that-be in the name of justice
            but seek to do so from our own positions of comfort and security
                        may find that we are already colluding
                        with he very systems we are seeking to stand against.
 
This is why we who would see the world different
            need to find ways of embracing and including within our own communities
            those with whom we would challenge the oppressive structures of the world
                        which keep all people, from the poorest to the most powerful,
                        hostages to fortune and authority.
 
We who would have compassion for the poor
            may find it helpful to remember that the word ‘compassion’
            is the bringing together of two Latin words:
                        com, meaning with, and passus, meaning to suffer.
            Compassion for the poor therefore involves suffering with the poor.
 
I’m reminded of the disability rights adage,
            ‘nothing about us without us’,
which is applicable I believe in any context, where the disadvantaged
            are finding people taking action on their behalf.
 
Any challenge to the indifferent powers of exploitation
            that does not include the voice of those who are being exploited
            will lack the power of the persistent widow.
 
But if our communities of transformation include those who are otherwise dis-voiced,
            then the cry we offer in challenge to the oppressive powers
            will be a voice of persistence informed by compassion.
 
It’s interesting to hear what the judge says as he grants the widow justice.
 
He says (v.5),
yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice,
so that she may not wear me out by continually coming
 
The Greek word here for ‘wear me out’ is a word that actually means
            to beat black-and-blue, a bit like a boxer at the end of a long round,
and it carries a connotation of ‘shame’, not just exhaustion.
 
As a defeated boxer might be said to have been shamed by his opponent,
            so the judge is ‘shamed’ by the widow.
 
When we join our voices with the voices of the oppressed,
            when we learn the language of the poor,
            and speak with them against the oppressive powers of indifference,
then God is active in the shaming of the powers-that-be
            into taking actions that bring justice and blessing to those in need.
 
In our wrestling with God in scripture,
            the stories of our faith can become for us the persistent widow,
shaming us with their honesty,
            and persisting in their challenge that we should be different.
 
As Jacob was left beaten and limping by his encounter with God,
            so we too may find ourselves black and blue after a night with the word of God.
 
But from the encounter comes the blessing,
            as we are enabled by the persistence of God
                        to disentangle ourselves from the seductions of complacency
                        and the temptations of indifference.
 
Sometimes I despair at the intransigence
            of the powers-that-be which rule our world.
 
Can they ever be brought to account?
            Can they ever be changed?
 
Well yes, says Jesus, they can;
            and it begins with those who have compassion,
            and it begins with those who are downtrodden and beaten up.
 
It is an upside down revolution,
            where the world is changed not through popular uprising
but through the telling, and living, of the stories of oppression:
            repeatedly, continually, faithfully.
 
It is a revolution which begins when people wrestle with God and with scripture,
            bringing the darkness into the light, even at great cost to themselves.
 
It is the church in solidarity with the poor
            against the indifference of the machine.
 
It is the faithful few who will not be told to be silent.
 
And so Jesus ends with a question:
            ‘And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’
 
This is a hard task, it is a task that it would be easy to talk away from,
            especially when faced with the indifference and hostility
                        of the powers of oppression.
 
And yet, and yet…
            we are called to keep the faith,
to persevere and not to count the cost.
 
As Paul put it in his letter to Galatians,
            ‘Let us not grow weary in doing what is right,
                        for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.
            So then, whenever we have an opportunity,
                        let us work for the good of all.’ (Gal 6.9-10).
 
To return to the story of Abdul and the chairman of HSBC,
 
twenty years on the Living Wage campaign
            has seen almost 300,000 workers get a pay-rise
and has put £1.5bn back into the pockets of low-paid workers.[2]
 
And so I challenge you to become involved through Bloomsbury
            in the work of London Citizens.
 
Whether you are someone who is powerless, or someone who is powerful,
            I would love for you to do some training,
so that together we can join in challenging
            the systemic powers of injustice in our world.
 
If you are interested in being a part of this,
            please speak to me and I’d love to arrange a time to sit down with you
            and we can see how together we can bring about change for good.
 
 
[1] This story is taken from https://www.livingwage.org.uk/news/we-cannot-be-anti-poverty-organisation-without-also-being-anti-racist-organisation
[2] https://www.livingwage.org.uk/news/we-cannot-be-anti-poverty-organisation-without-also-being-anti-racist-organisation

Monday, 25 July 2022

Slaves of Christ

A Sermon for Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church
31st July 2022, 11.00am


1 Peter 2.18-25
Slaves, accept the authority of your masters with all deference, not only those who are kind and gentle but also those who are harsh.  19 For it is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly.  20 If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God's approval.  21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.  22 "He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth."  23 When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly.  24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.  25 For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.


The first verse of our reading this morning,
            along with is parallels in some of Paul’s letters,
is surely one of the most catastrophically misused verses in the New Testament,
            because the entire theological construction
                        that has allowed Christians to own slaves
            has been built on these passages.

From the transatlantic slave trade, to apartheid, to the legacy of racism,
            some of the most grievous sins of the so-called Christian world begin here.

So what are we to make of a such a troubling phrase as,
            ‘Slaves, accept the authority of your masters with all deference,
            not only those who are kind and gentle but also those who are harsh.’? (2.18)

Part of our problem is that we, here in Bloomsbury in 202,
            are reading this verse from a perspective of power.

It is an unavoidable truth that we are the beneficiaries of Western Capitalism,
            a system founded in the legacy of the transatlantic slave trade
            and maintained by its twenty-first century equivalents,
we are the powerful ones in our world.

We may not like it,
            we may not have asked for it,
                        and we may not even realise it,
but our position in life and society is predicated
            on a system of globalized domination, oppression, and enslavement.

From the factories that make our clothes,
            to the farmers who harvest our luxury groceries,
                        to the finance systems that keep us solvent,
            we are all, at least by proxy, slave-owners.

And, if you’re anything like me,
            you probably find that to be an intensely uncomfortable realization.

And so, when we read a verse like v.18,
            and when we read it in the light of the unspeakable evils
                        of the slave industry that it has historically legitimated,
            it is no surprise that we find this verse, too, to be intensely problematic.

However, and I say this recognizing that in no way
            does this let any of us off the hook,
I wonder if we have been reading it upside-down, so to speak.

1 Peter 2.18 was not written for slave-owners, but for slaves.
            It was not written to either justify or challenge the powerful,
                        but to comfort the weak and the vulnerable.
            It was not, dare I say it, written for us, but for others.

And if we are going to hear it,
            we will need to make the effort to shed ourselves
                        of some of our inherent privilege,
            and attempt to take a few steps in another, less powerful, person’s shoes.

We simply need, for a moment at least, to get over our emancipatory impulses,
            and we need to leave behind our modern discourse on human rights,
in order that we can enter instead into a world
            where Christians have no power to change
                        either their own social circumstances,
                        or the situations of others.

Those in the churches of Asia Minor at the end of the first century,
            who were the original recipients of this letter,
had no option to buy fairly traded products,
            or to demand ethical investment from their bankers or pension fund providers.

They had no political freedom to make the case for freedom for others,
            and no freedom to research and publish stories
            that might re-frame the narrative of their society.

Their lot in life was fixed, usually from birth,
            and there was little they could do to change it.

Those worshipping in the churches to which 1 Peter was written
            were either slaves, or freemen of the lower classes,
            with possibly a small number of slave owners for good measure.

Paul addresses the responsibilities of slave-owners
            in his letters to Ephesus (Eph. 6.9) and Colossae (Col. 4.1),
but 1 Peter 2.18 is clearly written to those in the churches
            who are slaves with no possibility of repeal;
including those who were not necessarily slaves of Christian masters,
            but rather of those who are harsh, unjust, and violent towards them.

And in the advice to slaves, that we find so hard to hear with our modern ears,
            the author offers them a radical perspective on their plight:

He tells them that they are already free.

This is a revolutionary answer,
            it is something that has the capacity to turn the world upside down.
They are slaves, but they are free.

His point is that in their willful subordination of themselves to their earthly masters,
            they become active participants in the sociopolitical revolution of Jesus,
which began with Jesus’ own willful subordination
            to the forces of violence and hatred that took him to his death on the cross.

This is the upside-down thinking that I was talking about earlier,
            where powerlessness becomes agency,
            and slavery becomes freedom.

The lesson that 1 Peter is attempting to convey
            is that, in Christ, a paradigm shift has taken place
in which even the least powerful person receives the capacity
            to respond in a Christ-like manner to their circumstances,
            however horrific and disempowering those circumstances might be.

Even a slave can model the example of Christ,
            who himself, like them, endured suffering and death for doing right.

Now, I admit it, from my point of view
            as someone who has had choice and privilege from my birth to today,
this all has the potential to sound rather like a small crumb of comfort
            designed to keep the workers in their place.

And so it has become, when this passage, and those like it,
            have been taken from the poor
            and pressed into the service of the oppressors.

But for the person who is utterly powerless,
            this remains a revolutionary perspective.

The slave who chooses faithfulness to Christ in the face of suffering
            becomes aligned with Christ’s own faithfulness,
and so is joined with Christ in the great project of salvation
            which disempowers and unmasks all powers of domination and oppression.

And this crucible of suffering and disempowerment
            smelts away all the layers of nuance and compromise
                        with which the rest of us, who do not face such heat of persecution,
                        manage to surround and cocoon our own discipleship.

The slave who subordinates themself to the evil powers,
            whilst refusing themselves to do evil,
speaks of a faithfulness to Christ
             that utterly rejects all forms of dominance, oppression, cruelty, or violence.

By refusing the path of revolutionary emancipation,
            and by choosing not to seek to reverse the balance of power,
            or to long for violent retribution against their oppressor;
the slave in Christ demonstrates
            that any who would seek such power over others,
                        whether they be master of many slaves,
                        or the perpetrator of hidden domestic violence,
            are simply un-Christian.

There is no place here for violent or dominant Christianity in any form.
            Because to seek to take power over another
            is to seek to take power over Christ.

And this is a hard message for those of us
            who have inherited considerable power to hear.

The message of 1 Peter may be comforting to those who are powerless,
            but it is profoundly challenging to those of us who are powerful;
because the situation of the Christian slave
            is offered as a paradigm for the way all Christians are to live in the world.

We saw in our first sermon on 1 Peter, a couple of weeks ago,
            that central to the message of the book
                        is the principle that Christians are called from the world by God,
                        sanctified and transformed by the Spirit,
                        and then sent back to the world as resident aliens and exiles
                                    to live in obedience to Jesus Christ.

But what does this obedience to Christ look like?
            Well, says 1 Peter, it looks like slavery.

We are all, each of us, from the most powerful to the least,
            called to realise that we live in a world which is trying to dominate us,
                        to subjugate us, to bend us to its will.

It will use coercion if necessary,
            but is equally happy to buy our allegiance,
                        to pacify us with pleasure and bribe us with benefits.

The lesson we need to hear loud and clear from 1 Peter
            is that ‘all existing social orders,
                        even those regimes established on the constructs
                                    of emancipation and human rights,
                        are always only systems of relative justice and injustice
            [and] none of them, not even egalitarian liberal democracies,
                        represent the arrival of the new creation’. [1]

The lesson we need to learn from the advice to the slaves
            is that subordination to systems of evil is not, in Christ,
a call to ‘fit [either] resentfully or happily into a given system,
            whether hierarchical or egalitarian,
nor [is it] a call to struggle for a higher place within it.’ [2]

Rather, the call on us, as it was for the slaves of the first century,
            is to ‘live and act as free persons with respect to all existing systems.’ [3]

And so, I think, our attention is turned,
            to the key issues for our society and our world,
and we can hear the call of 1 Peter
            echoed in the letter of Paul to the church in Corinth,
                        challenging them to discover what it is to be a slave of Christ
                        in the midst of a hostile society:

1 Corinthians 7:21-24   
Were you a slave when called?
            Do not be concerned about it.
Even if you can gain your freedom, make use of your present condition
            now more than ever. 
For whoever was called in the Lord as a slave
            is a freed person belonging to the Lord,
            just as whoever was free when called is a slave of Christ. 
You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of human masters. 
            In whatever condition you were called, brothers and sisters,
            there remain with God.

The call for subordination becomes, after the example of Christ,
            a call for service:
                        to love of the other,
                        to self-giving,
                        to suffering for the other.

And this is a revolution unlike any other.
            It is not the revolution of bombs and guns,
                        or of knives and swords,
            as the oppressed rise up against their oppressor
                        to reverse the status quo
                        and assume power in place of powerlessness.

But neither is it a quiet acquiescence
            and submission to the powers that be.

Rather, it is the dogged determination
            to live life by one rule, and one rule alone;
            and that is the rule of Christ.

The world challenges us to a choice:
            acquiescence or revolution
                        – and both will break our spirits and consume our souls.

But the path of Christ is the third way,
            it is the path of obedience to Christ
                        in the face of overwhelming opposition.
            It is the path that says it is better to die for right than to live for wrong,
                        so stay faithful in the face of all pressures to conform.

And it is this path of obedience that sows the seeds
            of the kingdom of Christ in the world,
the seeds that scatter throughout society to spring up suddenly
            bearing the fruit of the kingdom in their own time and place.

1 Peter knows full well that the world will treat such people harshly
            – he knows that slaves and freemen alike will face opposition
                        if they take seriously their commitment to nonviolent resistance
                        to the systems of violence that dominate the world,
and so he points his readers to the example of Christ,
            who ‘entrusted himself to the one who judges justly’ (v.23).

We who have become slaves of Christ
            can join him in leaving the enaction of justice to God,
because we know that if we take justice into our own hands
            we simply become the system we are seeking to undermine,
            and we in our turn become the agents of the oppression of others.

In sharing in the subordination of Christ,
            we follow the pattern of the original messianic revolution, Jesus Christ.

He is our example and our teacher in
            how we should live as aliens and exiles in this world of domination:
‘When he was abused, he did not return abuse;
            when he suffered, he did not threaten’ (v.23).

We are followers of the one who ‘emptied himself,
            taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
            he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death
                        -- even death on a cross’,
as Paul puts it in his letter to the church in Philippi (Phil. 2.7-8).

It is by taking this Christ-like path
            that we break free from the shackles of society
to live lives which bring the new creation into being
            in the midst of our current social order.

When we live as slaves of Christ, the whole world is changed.

Jesus, in his life and example,
            makes ‘a complete and fundamental break
            with the sins, lies, threats, abuses, and violence
                        of existing political, social, and familial systems.’[4]

And so any truly Christ-like response
            to the systems of domination that enslave the world
            must make that same break.

Just as there is no place in 1 Peter
            for a Christian who would seek violent domination over another,
neither is there any mandate for Christian guerrilla warfare, armed revolt,
            or indeed any attempt to right wrongs
                        in ways that require the humiliation, suffering, and death of others.

Rather, just as Jesus took upon himself
            the socially and politically authorized violence of the empire,
so those who would follow him
            must also find the nonviolent path to transformation.

So what does this mean for us?

What are we to do when faced with monstrous injustice?
            How do we respond to the illegitimate or oppressive regime?
            What do I say to the cruel master,
                        or the man who beats his wife?
            How can I make the world right?

The answer, of course, is that I can’t.
            I can’t make the world right,
                        and if I take it upon myself to enact justice
                        I simply become part of the problem.

The path of Christ is to trust ourselves
            to the one who judges justly,
and in the light of that to find freedom
            from our enslavement to the narratives of redemptive violence
            that underlie the scripts by which our society keeps acting.

When we together learn to do this,
            we become together the new humanity that is in Christ Jesus,
and our collective woundedness, our addiction to revenge,
            is healed by the wounds of the one who died for the sins of the world.

We who were lost like sheep
            are drawn back to the shepherd who will lead us into life.

So what does it mean, then,
            for us in our world to live as slaves of Christ?

Can we discover, in our own lives,
            that we are truly free from all the systems and powers
                        that seek to dominate and dictate our daily living,
            to beat, coerce and cajole us into acquiescence
                        to their whims and desires?

What might it mean for us to have the courage to do right and die for it,
            rather than to do wrong and die anyway?

Can we see the truths of our society’s enslavement
            that are every bit as self-evident and immutable
            as the system of slavery that kept the Roman empire functioning?

And what would it look like for those of us enmeshed in such systems
            to discover that in Christ we are truly free?

Can we hear the call on us to live lives of absolute non-violence;
            of unconditional acceptance of the other;
            of radical obedience to the path of Christ in all areas of our lives?

It may seem that such a thing is beyond us,
            that we are too compromised, too trapped, too enslaved.

It may seem to us that this Christ-like path
            is dangerous foolishness when taken to this kind of extreme.

And so it is.
            Well, dangerous at least.

But it is the challenge that 1 Peter dangles before us,
            telling us that ‘to this you have been called,
                        because Christ also suffered for you,
            leaving you an example,
                        so that you should follow in his steps.’ (v. 21).



[1] Harinck, 1 Peter, p.81.
[2] Harinck, 1 Peter, p.81.
[3] Harinck, 1 Peter, p.81.
[4] Haricnk, 1 Peter, p.83)