1 Peter 2:1‑10
1Rid yourselves of all malice, all guile, all insincerity, all envy, and all slander. 2Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation — 3if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.
4Come to Him, a living stone, rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and 5like 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; 6for it stands in scripture:
‘See, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious;
whoever believes in Him will not be put to shame.’
7To you 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’,
‘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, 9but 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 marvellous light.
10Once you were not a people,
but now you are God’s people;
once you had not received mercy,
but now you have received mercy.
Text © The New Revised Standard Version (English version), alt, used with permission.
Ouch! There are two significant differences between the Revised Common Lectionary, used on an international stage, and the lectionary set out for use in those Anglican Churches in Australia which use A Prayer Book for Australia with respect to this passage. The first is that other churches use verses 2-10 of this passage at Easter 5 (14th May this year); the second is that the first verse is usually omitted. I celebrate the inclusion of verse 1.
As with all the letters in the New Testament, when the writer mentions something to avoid it is already known to be happening in the community to which the epistle is directed. In this case the letter is directed to Christians in a number of provinces in Asia Minor, though the actual author is not known. At the time it was a common approach for a disciple of a well-respected teacher to attribute authorship to that teacher, rather than claim it himself – and it was very likely to be himself, not herself.
That first verse is painful. The Revised English Bible opens with “Away with all wickedness and deceit, hypocrisy and jealousy, and malicious talk of any kind”, which, I believe, is easier to grasp than the rendition in the New Revised Standard Version. We can let our minds run wild with ways in which the audience may have been acting wickedly, deceitfully, with hypocrisy or jealousy, or engaging in defamatory talk. Feel free to take a piece of paper, or a memo pad page on your favourite computer, and jot down everything you think might be covered by verse 1. The real message for us, today, is to look at that extensive list and see if we are engaging in any of those issues. The injunction from the author isn’t limited to open situations that should be avoided, which means it can also relate to small talk, discussions about someone when that person isn’t present, or when we’re looking at potential leadership issues in the confines of our various groups – and “malicious talk of any kind” can even extend to what we imply, but don’t say. This passage opens a mine field when we start to look at the implications in our own lives, which is why I began with “Ouch!”
If we find ourselves engaging in activities which the author suggests we should avoid then it is imperative that we return to the vital source of our nourishment as if newly born into the Christian community. Most newborns will devour the milk given in the early weeks of life before moving onto more substantial foods. In the same way this passage suggests that by drinking spiritual milk we will move towards salvation, if we have seen that the Lord is good, which we should if what we have been fed is as close as possible to the real supplier. Bring it on!
The next eight verses are a combination of allusions to and quotations from scripture familiar to Jews and Christians in the first century. If the idea of ‘tasting that the Lord is good’ has rings of familiarity perhaps that’s because it’s a direct reference to Psalm 34:8 – ‘O Taste and See’. For five of the following verses we get a repeated emphasis on the living cornerstone which is rejected by the people, yet precious in God’s sight. This is a stumbling block when people reject the message. How can we experience the strength of a building if the vital cornerstones are missing? We are invited to be part of the spiritual house of God in which all believers will be appreciated; but it is the builders, the ones who should know the right piece to put in the right place, who reject the message. How many of our churches struggle because they were founded on second rate stone, leaving an enormous, and almost impossible, task for those who follow? Would these churches be better starting again from scratch? I am, of course, not referring to the physical buildings in which we gather – though some of them might gain from being rebuilt – but those gatherings based on watered-down messages as if they were from God, or distortions based on taking passages out of context and trying to apply them to all times. Who are the builders responsible for your parish? We can restart without having to totally dismantle a parish, of course, by changing approaches and inviting new people into our newly energised community. Will they know we are Christians by our love, or will they feel excluded and never return? If we believe in God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, then we are part of the chosen royal priesthood, and we have been “called out of darkness into His marvellous light” – which those familiar with the current Anglican baptism services will recognise. Will that light be a beacon drawing others to our community, or a lighthouse warning of dangers?
The passage ends with an allusion to Hosea. Names, to the Hebrew people, were very important, and had a significant meaning – that’s why many of the highly considered women in the Bible are called Mary. In the time of Hosea God was so unhappy with the people that He got the prophet to marry a prostitute and call one of the children “not my people”, another “not loved”. When Israel and Judah were restored to their former glory God changed the names of the children to “you are my people” and “you are loved”. Here, our writer applies the same image to the Christians of Asia Minor, telling them that once they were not a people, but now they are, and in becoming God’s people they have received mercy. Are we living up to the concept of being God’s people? Are we imposing limitations on those who come to join us in following Christ, or demanding that things have to be done “our way” before they can be accepted? Do we expect people to become Christians before they can belong to our community – remember verse 1 – or can they join first and later declare their allegiance to Christ? How many of those whom we encounter in our daily lives can walk away feeling that mercy has been shown to them?