1 Peter 4:7-11
It’s oftentimes quite fascinating to read the scriptures forensically, that is to search the scriptures like a good detective. If what we’re being presented in a scriptural passage is the answer to a question, or a solution to a problem, or the right way to live and act, what’s the presenting issue? Why does this need to be said, whatever we’re being told? So in the First Letter of Peter – our first lesson today – why are we being told what we are being told? If this is the solution, what’s been the problem? What’s the “back story”?
- “Maintain constant love for one another…” (What’s that about? There’s been a breakdown in love. Love has been patchy, inconsistent, unpredictable.)
- “Love covers a multitude of sins…” (“Sins,” plural. The people around you have been disappointing and disingenuous… repeatedly, which has elicited disdain, not love.)
- “Be hospitable to one another…” (To be hospitable is to be welcoming and generous to others… especially those whom you otherwise find irritating and off-putting. Have space in your heart and space in your home for those whom you could easily distance. Be hospitable.)
- Don’t be “complaining.” (The issue here is not about expressing a complaint, a dissatisfaction, a disagreement. No, the problem is not about a complaint. The issue here is about being a complainer. Having a predisposition that someone or something is always wrong and should be different. The issue here is about a state of being: being a complainer.)
- We’re to be “good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” (So what’s that about?) Peter writes we are to be “good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serving one another with whatever gift each of you has received…” (So each of us is gifted, but not gifted in the same ways. Our gifts are not our possessions. Our individual gifts have been temporarily entrusted to us. We are to be “stewards” of our gifts, not possessors. If we don’t learn about our temporary stewardship of our gifts earlier in life, we will learn later in life… because our gifts are fleeting. Our gifts diminish and then go away.) We’re to be temporary “stewards” of the gifts we’ve received from God. And we’re to use our God-given gifts not to lord over one another but to “serve” one another.
Francis de Sales, the 17th-century friar, bishop, and saint, wrote extensively gifts and needs.[i] Francis de Sales said that “people can become proud and arrogant because they ride a handsome horse, have a feather in their hat, or wear well-tailored clothes. He says, if there is any glory in such things, it surely belongs to the horse, the bird, and the tailor!”[ii] The glory belongs to the source of the gifts.
Our detective work with the First Letter of Peter uncovers not only the impeding issues in life, but also the inviting answers: how we are to go about being. We are put in our place. And that is, we are reminded we’re all different from one another: different gifts and needs, which is what God uses to knit us together. Our distinctive gifts and distinctive needs are intended to complement one another, not intended for either competition or conflict. God gives each of us an invitation in life. God has entrusted each one of us with distinctive gifts, and God has entrusted each one of us with distinctive needs, and that’s all by God’s design so that, in life together, we become whole. Our gifts and our needs are all very temporary in this life. What is not temporary, what abides, is the giver of our gifts and the giver of our needs. St. Peter is convinced that God is to be glorified as the source of it all, both gifts and needs. As St. Peter says, “to [God] belongs the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.”
[i]Francis de Sales, OFM Cap. (1567-1622), Bishop of Geneva, was known for his pastoral wisdom and for his writings on the topic of spiritual direction and spiritual formation, particularly his Introduction to the Devout Life and the Treatise on the Love of God.
[ii]Quoted from Introduction to the Devout Life.
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