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Thursday, September 2, 2010

What I'm Reading Today: 1 Peter 2

Lots of folks will read the language that culminates today's passage from 1 Peter – the language about Christ using "his servant body to carry our sins to the Cross so we could be rid of sin, free to live the right way" (1 Peter 2:24) – solely through the lens of classical atonement theory. By this I mean they interpret the verse to mean the primary work Jesus did was to sacrifice himself so that his blood would pay the price for our sins/transgressions.

That's certainly one way of thinking about the work of Christ.

I tend to think about the work Christ accomplished with the verse just before (1 Peter 2:23) and just after (1 Peter 2:24b) the section I began by quoting. 1 Peter 2:23 reads, "He suffered in silence, content to let God set things right." 1 Peter 2:24b reads, "His wounds became your healing."

Let me tell you why I tend to think of it this way, and how this way might differ from a more traditional position.

As an ordained spiritual leader of a faith community, I am asked to wear at least two VERY different hats during the course of my days. One hat I'm asked to wear is an administrative hat. By this, I mean I am charged with making decisions that drive the organizational/structural life of the faith community. The other hat I wear is a pastoral hat. By this, I mean I am charged with providing loving and grace-filled care for those individuals within our faith community.

While there are many times when it is possible to wear both hats simultaneously, there are other times when it is impossible to reconcile those hats – and I am forced to choose which one to wear. Let me give you an example of one situation where the two hats proved incompatible with one another.

There was a time when I worked closely with a lay person who was charged with providing leadership for the community. The individual was going through a great deal of turmoil in the individual's life. It started showing up in a variety of ways. The individual started getting into interpersonal conflicts with other members of the community. Eventually, the individual started pulling back from participation in the community life all together.

Lots of folks interpreted the individual's actions as if they were a reflection on the life of the community. More specifically, they thought the individual was disgruntled with my leadership of the community.

I could have chosen to break confidentiality and clue folks in on what was really happening with the person. I chose not to. Not only would such a breach of confidentiality been inappropriate – it would have violated the very essence of my call to be a pastoral presence. I chose, therefore, to keep my mouth shut (1 Peter 2:23) and let people in the community think what they wanted – even if that meant they thought less of my as an administrative leader. I ended up getting wounded (1 Peter 2:24b) in order to let another person have the time and space that person needed to heal.

I don't mean to make myself sound like a saint here. Believe me I'm FAR from sainthood! And besides, lots of folks make those same sorts of sacrificial gestures all the time in a variety of roles. Parents often take some heat for their children during their children's maturation process. A well-established co-worker will sometimes protect more vulnerable colleague in order to help their colleague through a learning curve at work. The list of examples I could give is endless. What matters in all of this, however, is a sense that what it means to be Christ-like is to make oneself vulnerable for another as a means of empowering the other individual on their journey toward wholeness. That – in many ways – is the lens through which I see Christ's work for us.

So how do you wrestle with the challenging notion of atonement theory? Do you see it in its most literal sense (i.e. Jesus' blood paid the price for us), do you see it in a more figurative sense, or do you avoid it all together? May your exploration of that question take you to new levels of understanding in your faith life.

Til next time …

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