One of the lectionary readings for the fourth Sunday of Easter (May 7) 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” (1 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 have 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, 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 patriarchal 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 SchÃ¼ssler 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 pre-existing conditions, Medicare and maternal health are just a few of the concerns.
An Alabama congressman bordered on a blame-the-victim mentality in explaining the GOP health care bill.
He stated, “It will allow insurance companies to require people who have higher healthcare costs to contribute more to the insurance pool. That helps offset all these costs, thereby reducing the cost to those people who lead good lives – they’re healthy, they’ve done the things to keep their bodies healthy. And right now, those are the people who’ve done things the right way that are seeing their costs skyrocket.”
He did clarify, “In fairness, a lot of these people with pre-existing conditions have these conditions through no fault of their own. And I think our society, under those circumstances, needs to help.”
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 they serve than their own prospects of re-election.
The 1 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 (see verse 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 is president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary (CBTS) in Shawnee, Kansas. A version of this column first appeared on her blog, Trinitarian Soundings, and is used with permission. You can follow CBTS on Twitter @CBTSKansas.