I have always had a hard time reading the letters of any of the apostles and understanding them without first hearing their historical context. Not being a biblical scholar, I turned to Wikipedia, which informs me that this letter was written to Christians in parts of what is now Turkey. These early Christians were suffering from persecution— it’s not clear what, perhaps either social discrimination or “being fed to the lions” persecution. The author wrote this letter to encourage them and give them instruction as how to live during this persecution.
This is Peter’s summary statement: be agreeable, sympathetic, loving, compassionate, humble. Don’t retaliate. Don’t be sarcastic. Say nothing hurtful, but cultivate goodness.
That’s so hard.
When we have a bad day at work, we gripe, we become snarky. But how constructive is that?
When griping occurs in a community of individuals such as these early Christians–living and working in close proximity to each other, sort of excluded from other “average” people, being held to very high standards, and enduring stressful times and situations– this griping can be very caustic. Sometimes the best thing for a community, especially one in such stress as this– is for people to be kind to each other, and to snip the snarkiness in the bud.
Then the author goes on to state that beyond being good to others in our community, we must be good outside of our community, to be a blameless, patient and enduring witness for Christ in this world where we may seem isolated. We are to always state (with courtesy and without being obnoxious) when asked, why we do the good things that we do–so don’t be too preachy. I think of the readings at Ash Wednesday that say we are not to pray and fast like the pharisees who make a big show, but to simply pray, because that is what we are supposed to do.
So how do we apply this in our daily lives? It’s hard to imagine us persecuted right now. Christians don’t go to church in fear in the US. Christians aren’t threatened to be on “special watch lists” or anything. We hardly seem like an isolated community, living in fear of discrimination or actual physical harm.
Perhaps still, it is not a good idea to hurt others with snarkiness. Perhaps now, especially in our fragile society now, that now is the time to build up each other, to pursue peace with all our hearts. To show examples by the way we live, but never as preachy or in-your face.
So how exactly do we do that? Well, I’m not sure. I do, however, pray that the Holy Spirit guides each of us away from the snark and towards the peace, and lead us to be examples unto the rest of this world.
–Dr. Heather Highsmith