1 Peter 2:19-21
2:19 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.
I read a meditation on this passage this morning in which the author brought the passage into the present without considering the context in which it was written. This typically annoys me. That writer said suffering is not pleasing to God, that although pain was a reality of life, we got to choose whether or not we suffered. He didn’t believe that God would ever approve of suffering. His example was if a friend stood you up for dinner, that would bring momentary pain. But obsessing over it and suffering because of keeping that pain alive is unnecessary. I thought this was a bit simplistic and had nothing to do with what Peter was writing about.
When Peter wrote this, Rome had just burned and Christians were being blamed for starting the fires. Persecution of Christians was ramping up. Peter was consoling the persecuted, saying in effect, “You have done nothing wrong but are persecuted just for being a Christian. Likewise Jesus did nothing wrong, but was tortured and killed for his teachings. Taking him as your example and know that God approves your willingness to suffer for your faith.” Martyrs have been venerated in the Church from the time of Stephen’s stoning right up to the present, so much so that Catholic Church declares that martyrs are automatically recognized as saints.
It is still the case that in some parts of the world, Christians are imprisoned, tortured and killed for their faith. Frequently this happens to missionaries who are trying to help oppressed people learn to be self sufficient and to reject traditions that keep them oppressed. A tyrant does not approve of an educated, liberated people, so the teaching missionaries have to go. They have done nothing wrong in the eyes of God and they will not back down from their calling, so they are punished. Suffering for their faith, although not what God would want for them, nevertheless does follow Jesus’ example, and so would meet with God’s approval.
Likewise, when Disciples pastor the Rev. William Barber and other members of the Poor Peoples Campaign are arrested during a protest against the oppression of the poor in this country, this arrest is a direct result of their refusal to back down from what their Christian faith requires of them. Whatever injury or indignity they suffer is done on behalf of the oppressed, and I believe that this meets with God’s approval. For God has said that what is required of us is to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God.
God of justice, give us the courage to stand up for our faith when we encounter opposition. Help us to follow Jesus’ example in stepping out of our comfort zone to do your work in the world. Amen.