Commentary on 1 Pet 4:7-13
Today we jump to chapter 4 of Peter’s first letter. We have skipped over a longish passage where he gives instructions to various classes and groups of society. Today’s reading consists of the final verses in Part III on ‘The Christian in a Hostile World’ and the opening verses of Part IV which consists of ‘Advice to the Persecuted’.
Today he gives some warnings about the end time which is believed to be close at hand. The early Christians expected to see Jesus come again in their lifetime. But by the time the later writings of the New Testament came to be composed, this expectation was fading and a longer wait was anticipated. This also changed church attitudes which looked more to present behaviour as a long-term preparation for the coming of the Lord.
The anticipation of the end times, particularly Christ’s return in glory, should influence the believers’ attitudes, actions and relationships. “Be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayer”. If they are to be ready for this coming, Christians are to be characterised by reason; they are to make wise, mature decisions and are to have a clearly defined purpose in life. Prayer should form a central part of the Christian’s life – not just the reciting of prayers but being in close dialogue with the Lord, of which a large part should be listening.
In their relationships with each other, love, a real care for each other, should dominate. That love should be “intense” because “love covers a multitude of sins”. A phrase which we can use very glibly but it contains a profound truth. The truly loving person, the one dedicated to taking care of the needs of others, can never be far from God. Wherever there is love, there is God; wherever there is love, there cannot be sin.
And such love clearly includes the Christian virtue of hospitality, of opening one’s doors not only to friends but even to strangers, especially those in need. In addition, all have received gifts in abundance from the Lord and these are to be generously put at the service of others. That is why they were given in the first place. In a climate of fear and anxiety, where love is missing, it is so easy just to think selfishly of oneself.
Those who have the gift of public speaking, for instance, should use that gift to share the message of the Gospel. And this applies not just to community leaders but to every person to whom the Spirit speaks. Those deputed to minister to the community (including liturgical service) should do so with all the strength that God has given them.
In a word, all is to be done for the greater glory of God. Everything we have belongs to him and our enrichment is in giving everything back to him – through those around us.
In the final part of the reading, there are words of encouragement. He addresses his readers as ‘Beloved’ (‘agaphtoi, agapetoi) – the objects of his agape-love. They are reminded not to be surprised at trials they may be experiencing from those who attack or persecute them. Far from being disturbed by this, they should rejoice to be able to share in the sufferings of Jesus. When it comes to misunderstandings, abuse and suffering physical violence Jesus has experienced it all – and for our sake. It was Peter, we might remember here, who opposed the idea of Jesus suffering (Matt 16:21-23).
Much of this advice needs to be heard and taken on board by each one of us. It is as valid now as when it was written 2,000 years ago.
GOSPEL (Mark 11:11-26)
We are now entering the final part of Mark’s gospel. Jesus is now in Jerusalem and in the final days of his ministry.
Today we have the strange incident of the fig tree. Jesus was leaving Bethany for nearby Jerusalem and was hungry. He went up to a fig tree looking for fruit to eat, even though it was not the time of year for figs. Jesus then cursed the tree: “Never again shall anyone eat of your fruit!” Why curse a tree for not having what it could not have at that time?
In the evening on their way back to Bethany, the disciples saw the fig tree that Jesus had cursed all withered.
This story is generally understood as a kind of parable. The fig tree without fruit represents those people among the Jews who rejected Jesus. When he came to them looking for faith in his message, he found nothing. In a sense, they had closed their minds and withered up.
This meaning is reinforced by another event which is sandwiched into the middle of the fig tree story. This is a common device used by Mark and it is called ‘inclusion’, when one passage is enclosed within another. (We remember the story of the woman with the haemorrhage which is included within the story of the raising of Jairus’ daughter.)
After cursing the fig tree Jesus went to the Temple in Jerusalem and began driving out all those who were trading in the Temple court. He accused them of turning God’s house of prayer into a market place. It was an example of people who had reduced their religious faith to mere commercialism. Religious ritual had been turned into an opportunity for making money. The meaning of the Temple as the symbol of God’s presence among his people was being lost. And there was also the failure to see the presence and power of God working through Jesus himself. The fig tree was adorned with beautiful leaves but there was no fruit.
And so at the end Jesus urges his disciples to develop real faith, a real trust and insight into God’s presence in their lives. To those with true faith, Jesus says, just anything is possible. It is an essential condition for prayer. And prayer must include a willingness to forgive and be reconciled with those who cause us difficulties so that we may find forgiveness and reconciliation from God for our own faults and failings in his service.
Let us pray today for that kind of faith. A faith that produces much fruit. A faith that generates harmony and togetherness.