By Elizabeth Baumann

A Reading from 1 Peter 3:13-4:6

Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? 14 But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, 15 but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you;

16 yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil.

18 For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, 20 who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.

21 And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.

1 Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same intention (for whoever has suffered in the flesh has finished with sin), 2 so as to live for the rest of your earthly life no longer by human desires but by the will of God. 3 You have already spent enough time in doing what the Gentiles like to do, living in licentiousness, passions, drunkenness, revels, carousing, and lawless idolatry.

4 They are surprised that you no longer join them in the same excesses of dissipation, and so they blaspheme. 5 But they will have to give an accounting to him who stands ready to judge the living and the dead. 6 For this is the reason the gospel was proclaimed even to the dead, so that, though they had been judged in the flesh as everyone is judged, they might live in the spirit as God does.

Meditation

I imagine Peter writing this lesson we have today — which begins, “Who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good?” — stopping and saying, “oops,” because the answer is “just about anyone.” The rest of the lesson seems to backpedal and try to deal with the truth that how you’re treated isn’t always  correlated to your actions, much less your motives!

We know this (or we should know this), because all our faith hinges on this idea that Jesus’ tremendous suffering at the hands of others was completely undeserved. Yet we continually respond to being treated badly by asking, “What did I do wrong?” as if that question has an answer. The truth is that people often treat others badly, and it rarely has anything to do with anything the victim did at all. The suffering undergone from being badly treated gets inflamed with self-doubt (“What did I do wrong?”) or with outrage at the injustice when, to some degree, you realize you didn’t really do anything wrong.

Two things: first, because Jesus’ suffering was also unjust, he gets it. To expect to be treated better than God himself in Jesus may be far-fetched, and any suffering you undergo will never be as unjust as his, but he understands being treated badly when the fault does not lie with you; you’re in good company. Second, and this is where Peter goes, to see unjust suffering as a privilege, as a way you can identify with and emulate and become more like Christ, turns everything on its head: suffering becomes joy. The trick then, is to engage in the flip: not to seek suffering, necessarily, but when we’ve been wronged, to be able to stop asking “What did I do wrong?” or saying, “How dare they …” but to let go of ourselves and see all things in light of the death-and-life, love-and-hate flip Jesus makes on the cross.

Elizabeth Baumann is a seminary graduate, a priest’s wife, and the mother of two small daughters. A transplant from the West Coast, she now lives in “the middle of nowhere” in the Midwest with too many cats.

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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer

Today we pray for:

St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Lake Mary, Fla.
The Diocese of Idaho