1 Peter 1:1 “Peter an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion… according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood.”
He says such amazing things to people that he hasn’t met. They are the chosen, the sojourners, the dispersion, and sprinkled with the blood of Christ—that is forgiven (Hebrews 9).
Markus Barth used to tell of a group of thieves that robbed a bank. Fleeing the bank, they dropped the gold and then hid in the swamp. There was a trial. They were found guilty, but the judge commuted the sentence and granted a full pardon. He sent messengers into the swamp to announce this news to the thieves, but every time the thieves heard the bloodhounds barking, they only hid deeper in the swamp. Barth would then ask his theology students, “Were those thieves forgiven?”
Peter writes as if all have been forgiven and all are tempted to hide in the swamp.
He writes as if all are members of his own tribe. We will discover that Peter is writing to Gentiles (as well as Jews) when he writes, “You are chosen exiles of the dispersion (diaspora).”
In Deuteronomy 28, through Moses God tells the tribe of Israel that if they break covenant they will be cursed and dispersed throughout the nations of the world… and their dead bodies will be food for the birds of the air. And then in Deuteronomy 31, he tells them that when the blessing and the curse has come upon them (He knows they will break covenant) “then the Lord God will gather you again from all the people… and bring you into this land… and circumcise your heart… so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul that you may live.”
Peter talks as if this promise was not only made to Jews but also to Gentiles.
Peter talks as if one day everyone that’s anyone will walk through the gates of the New Jerusalem.
Peter talks as if Abraham was blessed to be a blessing to all the nations of the world.
Peter talks as if our God is not simply our own tribal deity.
To Father Vincent Donavan, a Masai elder once said, “This High God of whom you speak, he could not possibly love Christians more than pagans, could he? Or he would be more of a tribal God than ours.”
I can’t remember a time when Christendom in America felt more tribal. And I don’t think we can even begin to comprehend the outrageous things that Peter will say in this letter until we come to terms with what happened to Peter in Acts Chapter 10.
In Acts 10, a Roman Centurion is praying when an angel appears to him and tells him to send for one Simon, called Peter. Meanwhile, Peter is praying, when he has a vision of “unclean” animals lowered in a sheet and hears a voice from heaven say, “kill and eat.” He says, “No, Lord, for I have never eaten anything common or unclean.” And the voice says, “What God has cleansed, you must not call common.”
When God Almighty, the “High God,” had Abraham leave his tribe in order that he could teach him about himself, he gave him dietary laws and circumcision; he gave him “tribal markers” that reminded the Israelites that they were to be different from the tribes around them.
Fifteen hundred years later, Jesus would reveal that it really wasn’t the food that made a person clean or unclean, but how one consumed the food—with or without regard to the Creator—that made a person clean or unclean.
Eating and relating to others can both be rather intimate activities.
We can commune with another life the way we commune with a piece of chicken and make that life a part of our own life—our flesh—and a piece of common unclean poop. Or we can commune with another life the way a Groom communes with his Bride, the two become one flesh, and sometimes make a baby. Sorry if that bothers you, Bride of Christ. But it might be significant when thinking about the Good and the Life who gave himself to us on the Tree.
Whatever the case, in the Old Covenant, the idea was that only those who were “clean” and therefore “uncommon” could approach God to commune with him—dine with him—in his Sanctuary.
The Voice says, “What God has cleansed, you must not call common (defiled, normal, the same).”
In an effort to make ourselves unique, we each make ourselves just the same (we form tribes), and in an effort to make ourselves just the same, we no longer know who we are or who anyone else is, and so can never know love—that is real communion. So maybe, the problem is our “effort” and the assumption that we can make ourselves in the image of God when we have no idea who he (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) is.
In the lunchroom in second grade, we each wanted to be unique, but we were each terrified of being alone, and so we formed tribes. But at high noon all the tribes—at least boy tribes—seemed to be united. We each lifted our feet, cried “cootie hour” and laughed. The theory was that at noon, cooties could cross the floor and infect us, and all the cooties came from Sharon. Sharon was different and abnormal, and we judged her “unclean;” we devoured her.
In high school, I always wanted to tell her but didn’t know how: “Sharon, I hope you know by now, all the boys said you had cooties because you were the prettiest, most feminine presence, in our world… We said those things about you for the same reason they crucified Jesus—he was glorious, they were jealous of Jesus and afraid for themselves.”
When Adam and Eve consumed the fruit, when you began to justify yourself by judging everyone else, you hid the creation of God in the desecration of man; you wrapped your neighbor and all creation in fig leaves; you made everything common and unclean. That’s your judgment. But your judgment cannot change the Judgment of God. And that’s the Gospel.
“What God has cleansed you must not call common.” It happened three times, just as Peter denied Christ three times. And yet Jesus rose from the dead and called Peter three times—called him “Rock,” the rock on which he would build his church. Peter couldn’t change the judgment of God.
“What God has cleansed you must not call common.” So, Peter went with the messengers sent from Cornelious the Centurion, stood before Cornelious and his household, and said, “God has shown me that I should not call any person (any person!) common or unclean.”
If you’re not “common,” you are what the Bible calls “Holy.”
If you’re not “unclean,” you are what the Bible calls “Forgiven.”
If Cornelious, the Centurion—and remember, it was a centurion who nailed Peter’s best friend to a tree in the middle of a garden—if Cornelious is uncommon and clean, when would this cleansing have happened? Wouldn’t it have been right after the Centurion nailed Jesus to the tree, and just as Jesus prayed “Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they do,” and right before the Centurion dropped to his knees and said, “Surely, this man was innocent, clean, uncommon, and glorious?”
“Forgive them.” Who’s “them?” The Centurion… and Adam (humanity). It’s the judgment of Adam to take God’s Life on the tree in order to make God like ourselves. And it’s the judgment of God to give his Life on the tree in order to make us himself—his Body and Bride.
God became a tribal deity, to reveal that all are made members of his tribe at a tree in a garden at the edge of space and time. He will separate each one of us from our tribe, to reveal to each one of us his communion of Love, so that we would each go back to our tribe bearing witness to his grace as we watch him turn a cancer into a body—his own body. In a body, each member is utterly unique, and yet all members share equally in a common Life. God is a sacrificial communion called love: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The thing that makes you clean or unclean is Love, and God is Love.
“Then to the Gentiles (and the Jews, that’s everyone) God has granted repentance that leads to life.”
You are not common or unclean, and your neighbor is not common or unclean, and when you know this, you will begin to live.