Learning From The Margins

Catherine McNiel | January 3, 2018

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1 Peter 1:1–2

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,

To God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood:

Grace and peace be yours in abundance.

—1 Peter 1:1–2

As we saw yesterday, Peter fully anticipates that followers of Christ will continue to live as God’s chosen people have always lived—as exiles and foreigners (literally at times, but figuratively at all times), with all the suffering that entails.

We can imagine what this meant for Christians during the all-powerful Roman empire, who chose to declare their allegiance to a Jewish teacher rather than the Empire or the powerful local and religious authorities. But what does it mean for followers of Christ today, here and now? What does it mean for us?

Interestingly, nearly all the commentaries I read while studying 1 Peter began with skepticism that the American church can handle this conversation. “Are American Christians ready to have a serious conversation about suffering and loss?” the authors and editors mused. “Will American Christians be willing to learn from the socially marginalized, the immigrant, the weak, the poor?” The clear suspicion was that we are not at all ready, willing, or able to do this.

But can we understand the Gospel if we shy away from suffering, laying down our rights for others, and embracing those on the margins? After all, it was Jesus who said that a rich man would have a harder time entering the Kingdom than a camel would have going through the eye of a needle. He said also that if we followed Him, we would not find life to be comfortable.

One commentator put it like this:

Peter writes to people on the margins. Therefore, we have an opportunity to learn from words addressed not to people in the upper echelons of society but to those pushed to the side. I wonder if we Christians in America are open to receiving words addressed to people who are on the bottom and not the top. My experiences from years of involvement in Christian service suggest that we typically only want to hear messages addressed to and delivered by powerful and influential people. Or we are willing to hear from former aliens and strangers, but only after those people have removed from such status—presumably by their own hard work and self-determination. However, Peter’s readers were not on the path of upward mobility. They were objects of shame but were instructed to live faithfully, following the way of Jesus, as evidence of God’s work in their lives and as witnesses to their accusers. 

As an African American, I am continually amazed at the endurance of my forebears, many of whom became Christians despite the evils of slavery and American Christianity’s mixed sentiments concerning that institution. Additionally, I am motivated and encouraged when I recall that our Lord Jesus was a voice from the margins and that such a place can be one of honor and not disdain. (pg. 33, The Story of God Bible Commentary, 1 Peter. Zondervan).

Questions for reflection and discussion: How does living a (relatively) socially and economically successful life make it difficult for us to understand and follow Jesus and the Bible? Can you think of ways you have been discipled by American values rather than the values of Jesus—and possibly even confused the two?  Do you think American Christians are ready to lay down their power and wealth to honor and learn from those who have neither? Why or why not?

This week's devotions were written by Catherine McNiel. Catherine and her family have been part of WBC since 2008. Her husband, Matthew, is the director of Puente del Pueblo, our church’s ministry that serves residents of the Timber Lake Apartments and several other areas of West Chicago. 

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