Man The Barricades? (2.Peter 11.11-17)
As somebody who has a natural distrust of government, and people in positions of power, today’s reading from 1 Peter is one, when taken at face value I substantially struggle with. On the face of it disagree with. With the local elections coming up, it’s good for us as Christians to reflect on things such as power and authority, who has it? Who do we give it to? Where do we get it from?
Now I’m not suggesting that we should take up arms against the government and form barricades around City Hall, like a Norwich version of Les Mis. ‘Do you hear the people sing, ‘cause they haven’t emptied the bin.’ But I think when we look at this letter within its context then it makes much more sense and is much more agreeable to those of us with a slightly less obedient mentality, when it comes to earthly government. What I don't think this letter is saying, is that we have to blindly obey those in authority.
We’re not sure exactly who wrote this letter. Lots of scholars are unsure about this, there’s been lots of debate about whether Peter was the actual author or not. Whoever the author is they’re pretty annoyed at the community they’re writing to. The thrust of the matter is that they’ve been being a bit naughty. At the beginning of Chapter 2, the writer tells them to grow up! To become mature, to grow into the salvation that they have got from Jesus, because they should know already how good the Lord is.
The main thrust of the letter is that in the writer’s mind, this community have not been treading the correct path. There are two paths, the correct one, the upright one, in which they will be confirmed by God. The other one brings ineffectual practice and condemnation.
The writer doesn’t mince his words. He calls them immoral, licentious, greedy, deceptive and that even a Donkey knows better than they do. Harsh words.
This community it seems to the writer, has no respect for authority, even Jesus’ authority to judge them. A predominant theme of this letter is the Judgement of Jesus, and many in this community seemed to believe that there would be no such thing.
That’s what this passage is all about, authority.
It was written for a specific time, and a specific place. I don’t think this was intended to be interpreted as a lesson for all time, that regardless of who is in authority we must, as Christians blindly submit ourselves to that authority. Jesus was not an example of somebody who was quiet, meek and mild, who put up and shut up. He was killed precisely because he challenged authority, he spoke out against those who stood for power, privilege and exclusivity.
What is far more important is what the writer is saying about society, about what it means to live as a Christian in a society that is predominantly not so. In the NIV this passage is titled ‘Living godly lives in a pagan society,’ just like then we are living in a part of the world where society is predominantly not Christian. We are supposed to attempt to live as part of that society, not separate from it.
I think there are two points, firstly we are to do good.
We are to do good, Fundamentally because through doing good we are performing God’s will, and people will see us for who we truly are. They will see the glory of God through doing good, through being hospitable and welcoming all people, our Muslim neighbour, our Jewish neighbour, our Atheist, working class, middle class or affluent neighbour, it doesn’t matter because love is the fulfilment of the law. ‘For so is the will of God, that with well-doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: as free, and not using liberty for a cloke of maliciousness; but as servants of God.
People are woken out of ignorance, when they see us doing good, we should always strive to do as much as we can.
The second point is this. For the writer, authority is given to rulers PROVIDED they use it well. ‘Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well.'
This passage has been used too many times in Christian history to justify evil regimes, and suppression of people whose rights are under threat. Yes we should submit ourselves to authority, we should be law abiding citizens, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't protest against insjustice, especially if it is purpetrated by a government that claims to act in our name.
With justice comes authority, and not the other way around. We have to act justly in order to have the authority that God gives us, and rulers and governments must act justly in order to have our obedience.
So the answer then isn't to man the barricades like in Les Mis, nor is the answer for us to put the barricades up and shut out a supposedly evil society.
The answer is to 'act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God. The answer is definitely to get our hands dirty. The answer is to love our neighbour. To honour all, love humanity, fear God, and even sometimes honour the queen.
Preached at BCP Communion,
St Peter Mancroft Church
Preached at BCP Communion,
St Peter Mancroft Church