Commentary on 1 Pet 2:2-5, 9-12
Yesterday Peter was speaking of the gift of God’s word to us. Today he sees that word as a form of nourishment – milk. We should be as eager as newborn babies for that “milk”. (Have we ever observed with what gusto the hungry baby attacks his mother’s teat and drinks deeply?) The author is speaking figuratively. Milk is not to be understood here as in 1 Cor 3:2 or Heb 5:12-14 – food for the immature in unfavourable contrast to solid food. With the complete nourishing ‘milk’ of God’s word we “grow into salvation”.
For those who have already got a first taste of what God has given to us in Christ (“You have tasted that the Lord is good”, Ps 34:8), there is an eagerness for that nourishment which will lead to growth and maturity in the Spirit. Since this taste has proved satisfactory, the believers are urged to long for additional spiritual food.
Peter now moves to another image when he speaks of Christ as a “living stone”, rejected by many but precious in the eyes of God. This Stone is the very foundation of the Church. It is a “living stone” both in the sense of referring to the real person of Christ and as a source of life for others. Christ as the Son of God has life in himself. He is also “living water” (Jn 4:10-14; 7:38), “living bread” (Jn 6:51) and the “living way” (Heb 10:20).
It is a stone chosen by God but so often rejected by human beings. In his addresses to the people in the Acts, Peter repeatedly makes a contrast between the hostility of the unbelieving towards Jesus and God’s exaltation of him.
But, not only that, the Christians, too, are living stones, “built as an edifice of the Spirit”. They derive their life from Christ, who is the original living Stone to whom they have come, the “life-giving Spirit”. These references to stones may well reflect Jesus’ words to Peter in Mt 16:18, where he is told that he is the Rock on which the whole structure of the future community is to be built, called here a “spiritual house”.
The house is spiritual in a metaphorical sense, but also in that it is formed and indwelt by the Spirit of God. Every stone in the house has been made alive by the Holy Spirit, sent by the exalted living Stone, Jesus Christ. The Old Testament temple provides the background of this passage. It reminds us of Paul’s telling Christians that they are the temples of the Holy Spirit and where the letter to the Ephesians speaks of each Christian as a stone contributing to building up the whole edifice of the Church. For now it is the people and not a building which is the Temple housing God’s presence in the world. Paul will say to the Corinthians: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Cor 3:16 and see Eph 2:19-22).
The purpose of that sacred building is to be a “holy priesthood”. This is the priesthood of the whole body of believers. As priests, believers are to (1) reflect the holiness of God and that of their high priest, (2) offer spiritual sacrifices, (3) intercede for others before God and (4) represent God in the presence of all. Through our priesthood we offer “spiritual sacrifices”, as opposed to sacrifices of animals and fruits. These can include: bodies offered to God (Rom 12:1), offerings of money or material goods (Phil 4:18; Heb 13:16), sacrifices of praise to God (Heb 13:15) and sacrifices of doing good (Heb 13:16). These sacrifices are “acceptable to God” through the work of our Mediator, Jesus Christ. In brief, believers are living stones that make up a spiritual temple in which, as a holy priesthood, they offer up spiritual sacrifices.
Quoting the book of Exodus (19:5-6) Peter, in a phrase much used in our liturgy, calls the Christians “a chosen race (Is 43:20-21), a royal priesthood (Is 61:6), a consecrated nation (Deut 28:9), a people [God] claims as his own” (Deut 4:20; 7:6; 14:2; Is 43:21; Mal 3:17). It is a phrase originally directed to the Israelites but now extended to God’s people of all races, Jews and Gentiles alike, who have chosen Jesus as their Lord.
And in words recalling a passage from the prophet Hosea (2:23), we who were once called “no people” have become God’s own people. Once we were beyond God’s mercy and now we have found mercy. In Hosea it is Israel who is not God’s people; in Romans it is the Gentiles to whom Paul applies Hosea’s words; in 1 Peter the words are applied to both.
The final two verses (11-12) belong to the third part of this letter, where the position of the Christian in a hostile world is discussed
They are reminded that privilege and choice brings also responsibility. There is no room for complacency. We have to realise that in this world we are strangers and exiles. The word ‘world’ can be understood in both its scriptural senses. We do not belong to that world which is opposed to all that God and Jesus and the Gospel stand for. But even in the sense of the material environment in which we live, we are not meant to be here forever. It is not our permanent home. It is a place we pass through to a much greater destination.
Hence we are not to indulge our baser instincts which can undermine our spiritual destiny. We are not to be bothered by attacks made on us by outsiders who may call us “troublemakers”. Given our different life vision, this is only to be expected. Our Way is a “sign of contradiction” for many.
We are to persevere in following the Gospel because many unbelievers, seeing how we behave, seeing our integrity, love, compassion and sense of justice and peace, will ultimately come to praise not us but the God who enables us to live this way. Jesus had said the same in the Sermon on the Mount: “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matt 5:16).
May they observe the good things that we do so that in time they are led to change their ways and give glory to God “on the day of visitation”. The Greek word translated “observe” refers to a careful watching, over a period of time. The pagans’ final evaluation is not a ‘snap judgment’. The “day of visitation” is perhaps the day of judgment and its ensuing punishment, or possibly the day when God visits a person with salvation. The believer’s good life may then influence the unbeliever to repent and believe.
It is a very meaningful reading. It is full of lovely images of Christ and of our relationships with him and it concludes by reminding us how we are to reveal the presence of Christ’s Spirit within us by the way we relate to all those around us.