Today’s Second Reading is one of the most controversial in the New Testament. In fact, when it is misused it causes great, great damage and has in the past. So we need to see what it actually says.
If you look at the passage we just heard we see Peter is telling people to be patient when they suffer. The point is that doing so will help them further the Kingdom of God even into the lives of those who cause such suffering.
So, if someone is giving you a hard time, a boss, a customer, a teacher, a student, it is important to focus on what your mission is as a Catholic and it is always the salvation of souls. Our role is to look at every person and do our part in their salvation. However, if you look at the citation you will notice the reading here starts on the third verse of chapter 2. So what comes before it, there is a huge difference once we understand those two verses and it leads us to understand the importance of interpreting scripture correctly.
The question is to whom is Peter speaking which will lead us to understand who is doing the beating we see in the reading.
The answer is he is writing to slaves. What is going on here?
First, is Peter endorsing slavery? No, but that interpretation was used by people to support slavery in this and other countries. It is in the Bible they will say.
Peter is dealing with the reality of slavery at this time in the Roman Empire and helping those who are living within it every day. Fighting against slavery is a real mission and there are freed slaves at the time in the New Testament but what do you do in the meantime?
Let me give you an example. If a US soldier is captured and held as a prisoner of war he or she has a duty to escape. However, how do you help them when that is although commanded not possible at this time?
This is the situation here. Peter is speaking to slaves who certainly should work for their freedom which was an option in Roman Law and required in Jewish law. However, for those who are still not free, he is giving them something important and powerful.
Victor Frankl was a Jewish Psychiatrist who was held captive in the NAZI concentration camps. He discovers something powerful, the difference between those who survived and those who did not and he found that those who had meaning in their lives had a greater chance of survival than those who lost all sense of meaning and therefore all sense of hope.
What is Peter teaching the slaves? There is meaning to their lives. It is an important lesson for each one of us. The mission the slaves have as Christians is the same mission each one of us has as Christians, the salvation of souls. That is primary. Everything we do has to be connected to that powerful reality.
The slave is to look at his owner as one who he has a role in bringing to salvation. He has an important part in the revolution against what St. Paul calls the principalities and powers the spiritual forces that seek human destruction. However, if a slave has that mission then don’t we all as well?
In both Jewish life and Roman life there was an avenue for a slave to attain freedom. Peter does not address that because he is addressing the role of even the slave in the mission of salvation. In Jewish life, a slave had to be treated respectfully and had to be freed in seven years.
What he is addressing is the reality in the life of the slave at that time, just as the POW must plan to escape, the Slave Should seek his own freedom but in both the case of the POW and the slave what do you do to help them today?
We are all equal on that plain. He is saying that you must act in a way that leads to the salvation of all. Why because that is the mission of each and every one of us. We need to live and act as people who seek to bring even our worst enemy to salvation. That is a radical way of living.
In other words, if the slave has to live like that then what excuse do we have not to live like that.
Let us put this poignantly. The slave has been beaten for doing bad, but what if the slave is being beaten for doing nothing bad? He needs to do so with patience. Now before you really get upset remember something. That does not mean the other slaves should remain silent. They can speak up and often they did. Jewish law required slaves to be treated just as humanely as one would treat members of their families. Roman law did not. However, when an owner get out of line slave rebellions were not unheard of. That reality is not addressed directly but it is addressed in other ways.
So what does that mean for us?
Christianity is about a revolution against the Kingdom of Darkness. It means we have to live in a way that changes people's hearts including our worst enemies. It means that we need to live in a way that is different than all others.
Every person who causes suffering to us must also be prayed for, a boss, a thief, etc. This does not mean we have to tolerate mistreatment or allow mistreatment of others and remain silent in fact that is a sin as well. However, it does mean that we have to act always in a way that leads others to salvation.
Let me give you an example. You have learned in school that slavery is no longer legal in the United States. What if I tell you, you are incorrect? In fact, it is legally protected in our constitution and it is practiced daily. Where? In our prison system. Prison slave labor is legal.
Yet, people are calling for more people to be put in prison and treating prisoners as those who are genetically programmed to cause crime. They grow angry when people treat prisoners with respect. We have a duty to address alternatives. If the slave has to look upon the evil owner in a way that serves Christ we do not have an excuse to do the same even against those who do evil against us. We need to work to their salvation that is how radical Peter’s message really is.
Photo via CanvaPro
Check out our podcast from St. Anthony Parish, Allston, MA
Thanks for reading Catholic Audio Media Newsletter! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.