May 8, 2017

Suffering Unjustly?

          One of the lectionary readings for the Fourth Sunday of Easter was a passage in 1 Peter, most likely addressed to slaves.  It perpetuates “redemptive violence” as essential to the story of salvation.
For it is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly (I Peter 2:19).
Granted, the slaves are to emulate Jesus who suffered, leaving an example for his
followers.  Yet, the expectation of enduring abuse without recourse, hoping for divine approval for this restraint, is not evenly distributed.  It is usually levied on those of lower social status or women. Somehow, people expect them to carry a disproportionate amount of human suffering, even though the conditions into which they were born has already set a table of disadvantage.  Immigrants are a case in point.  As people on the move, they have chosen a pathway of suffering, we rationalize.
            Yet, these are precisely the people God pays attention to in the words of Scripture.  God hears the cries of the oppressed, as the Exodus narrative reminds us.  God will not delay justice indefinitely for these.
            At the end of the first century CE, writers of the New Testament began to sound a much more cautious tone.  Whereas the earlier Pauline writings stressed egalitarian liberation for slaves and women, the later texts reinforced the hierarchical paterfamilias structure of the Greco-Roman culture.  They sacrificed the newly found freedom in Christ of these of lower social status in order to draw less attention to the nascent churches.  I commend Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza’s great study, In Memory of Her, for her analysis of this epoch reflected in Scripture.

            Our nation is in heated discussion about healthcare, and provisions for the most vulnerable are eroding.  Debates about preexisting conditions, Medicare, and maternal health are just a few of the concerns.   An Alabama congressman has gone so far to say: “People who lead good lives” don’t have preexisting conditions. This sounds like a classic “blame the victim” strategy.
Some pundits have suggested that the Congress members also be subject to the stringent requirements of the prospective new plan.  Hopefully the Senate will give it a fair-minded revision.  It would be a real act of state craft if elected representatives thought more about those their serve than their own prospects of re-election.

The First Peter text was accompanied by other texts that celebrate God’s shepherding of God’s own.  Psalm 23 speaks of an overflowing provision from God; John 10 echoes this, describing the abundance Jesus intends for those in his flock (v. 10).  We know that God empowers human partners to accomplish this holy intention.  Now is the time to advocate for those who suffer unjustly.

            Molly T. Marshall

 Central prepares leaders called to put the world in better order.

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