Mystic and philosopher Simone Weil observed that our natural human impulse is to turn away from suffering, so we tend to blame the victim. Yet the writer of First Peter challenges this view. When we encounter a “fiery ordeal,” the author invites us to “rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that [we] may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed.”
Unfortunately, throughout Christian history, many believers have followed this axiom to extremes by choosing penitence as a way to move closer to Jesus and even to glorify suffering—despite what Jesus says. He declares: “I came that they might have life, and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). Even so, the author of First Peter is not recommending a passive agreement to fate but rather bringing an expectant hope—because in trial, the presence of the “Spirit of God is resting on you.”
Throughout his ministry, Jesus does not avert his eyes from those in pain—not even the tug on the hem of his garment in a big crowd. He must experience great weariness, but again and again, Jesus looks at and acts to end suffering.
First Peter invites us to cast all our anxiety upon God because God cares for us. A dear friend tells me that as she walks, she prays and offers her worries to the sky, imaging God there to receive them. I find it helpful to envision Jesus walking ahead of me preparing the path or beside me sharing the yoke. What helps you to cast your cares upon God?
First Peter 5:10 leaves us with a picture of this walk in faith amid suffering: “[T]he God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ . . . will restore, support, strengthen and establish you.” Amen and amen.
Help me, dear Jesus, to keep my eyes open. Fill me with your compassion for the ones on my path who suffer. Help me to cast my own worries upon God. Amen.
Though Jesus has taught his disciples that God’s kingdom is not an earthly one, following the Resurrection some are still expecting him to set up a kingdom on earth. Instead, Jesus ascends into heaven in front of them, being taken up in the clouds. The scene recalls Psalm 68, where the Lord is described as one who rides on the clouds across the expanse of the heavens. In the Gospel reading, Jesus anticipates his coming departure and prays for his followers. Peter talks about a trial—literally a “fiery ordeal”—that is testing Christians. The reference to fire may be specific, for the Roman historian Tacitus records that Nero killed Christians in Rome by burning them alive. The author may therefore be speaking about suffering that is not just metaphorical.
Read Acts 1:6-14. When have you experienced the power of community?
Read Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35. Recall a time when you recognized God’s power with fear and joy. How might that have been a foretaste of God’s kingdom?
Read 1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11. How have you walked with faith through suffering?
Read John 17:1-11. What does it mean for you or your congregation that Jesus prayed for unity among his followers?
Respond by posting a prayer.
I join many of those who will pray for you as you seek to discern what you are called to be at this moment. May God grant you the courage to fulfill that calling. May we all open our eyes and see the misery, open our ears and hear the cries of God’s people, and, like God through the Lord Jesus Christ, be incarnate amongst them.”
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