Fifth Sunday of Easter

What matters is God’s valuation of human beings

a stand alone rock near a body of water
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May 7, 2023

Second Reading
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Commentary on 1 Peter 2:2-10

When 1 Peter turns from its extended introduction (1:3-12) to the body of the letter, the first major section (1:13—2:10) explores the identity and vocation of Peter’s audience. The shift is easy to spot, since Peter moves from an emphasis on what “is” to what “ought to be.” A celebration of God’s mercy and clarity about our place in God’s liberating narrative (1:3-12) leads to a call to actually be God’s people (1:13—2:10). “Dwelling in a strange land” (1:17 Common English Bible), God’s people are called to holiness—not in terms of negating whatever characterizes “the world,” but through distancing oneself from one’s former lifestyle and through imitation of God (for example, 1:14-17).

The last subunit of this section of the letter brings these motifs to a climax (2:4-10) characterized by appropriating Israel’s Scriptures in order to show these Christ-followers who they are, their status before God, and the nature of faithfulness as they live as “chosen strangers in the world of the diaspora” (1:1), as “immigrants and strangers in the world” (2:11). Peter reads the Scriptures christologically in order to guide the church in the formation of its identity and pursuit of its mission. To put it differently, Peter interprets the story of Israel, the story of Christ Jesus, and the story of these Christ-followers in parallel, rooting his audience deeply in both the scriptural past and Christ’s career.

The language of honor and shame pervades this material (rejected, chosen, precious, shame, honor), but we should note how these terms are used. Perspective is all important. What matters is God’s valuation of human beings, not appraisals more at home in the Roman world. Gender, genealogy, age, physical attributes, abilities—such typical barometers of who is up or down, who is in or out, are altogether missing. What matters instead is God’s choice and God’s election, both expressions of God’s grace. From the usual perspective, then, Christ and his followers are humiliated, rejected, and ostracized. From a perspective animated by Christ’s suffering, however, they are God’s elect, honored.

We find the Christological turning point in Peter’s citation of Isaiah 28:16 (1 Peter 2:6), which is set within an Isaianic oracle of judgment that leads to the promise of a new community realized as God restores God’s people and institutes God’s righteous rule. A “cornerstone” is not only the stone set at the corner of two intersecting walls (as the name implies). Importantly, it is the one prepared and chosen for its exact 90° angle, which serves as the basis for the construction of the whole building. Choosing the right cornerstone is essential not only to the aesthetics of the building but also to its durability. Obviously, as they set out to build, God (and those who adopt God’s perspective) and those who reject Christ have radically different bases for assessment. And these different perspectives reach their sharpest contrast in their appraisal of Christ’s suffering—for those who disbelieve, the site of vicious ridicule; for those who believe, the site of God’s saving work in the world.

For those who refuse God’s perspective, Jesus Christ is experienced as an obstacle (leading to stumbling and falling). Faith, then, allows one to see what could otherwise not be seen (leading to honor from God). From one point of view, Jesus and his followers are humiliated and ostracized, but from the other they are God’s elect, God’s honored. Accordingly, humans respond with trust or with disbelief and the consequences of those responses, whether trust or disbelief, have been pre-set (1 Peter 2:7-8).

Peter builds a parallel between Christ and Peter’s audience:

  • Christ, the living stone—Peter’s audience, living stones
  • Christ, rejected by humans—Peter’s audience, shunned strangers in the world
  • Christ, God’s elect—Peter’s audience, God’s elect
  • Christ, honored by God—Peter’s audience, honored by God

This does not put Peter’s audience on the same level as Christ. Rather, on account of Christ’s having been raised from the dead, they are like “living stones” who are acceptable to God through Christ.

Peter develops the identity of God’s people further, drawing especially on Israel’s narrative.

  • Rebirth involves incorporation into a new community, described here as the new temple that shares in God’s honor and symbolizes God’s presence and power.
  • Rebirth entails membership in the holy priesthood involving “spiritual sacrifices,” such as holiness of life (1 Peter 1:15) and mutual love (1:22).
  • Rebirth inducts them into a “chosen people”—disparate people who find commonality in their shared patterns of life, their share in Israel’s story, and their share in Christ’s story.
  • Rebirth into a holy nation and royal priesthood, borrowing language from Exodus 19:6 and so recalling the character of God who hears the distress of God’s people, acts on their behalf, and invites them into a covenant relationship. That covenant entails among God’s people that they exemplify God’s holy character and that they “proclaim the excellence of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).

Borrowing language from Hosea (1:6, 9; 2:1, 23), Peter drives home the gracious work of God in creating a community of people that previously did not exist (1 Peter 2:10). Using the language of Israel’s judgment and restoration, Peter sketches the significance of new birth for his audience of Christ-followers and celebrates the saving mercy of God.

Although 1 Peter 2:2-3 is not integral to the unit of Peter’s letter we have just discussed (2:4-10), it clearly prepares for it—first, by speaking to the potency of God’s word; and second, by helping to introduce the notion of new birth that anticipates what follows. The ideas of being nourished by the word and growing into salvation are filled out further by the stone imagery and references to peoplehood that follow.