Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 84; 148, Isaiah 24:14-23, 1 Peter 3:13-4:6, Matthew 20:17-28
If you didn’t tell people you were a Christian, would they feel compelled to ask about your hope?
The First Epistle of Peter, written to an audience spanning the Roman provinces of Asia Minor, is concerned largely with the relationship between Christians and the surrounding culture. In response to a growing sense among non-believers that Christians were troublemakers, dissidents, and generally immoral the letter encouraged Christians to respect authority and to face discrimination and persecution for doing what is right as opportunities to achieve solidarity with Christ’s suffering.
The letter advises: “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence.”
Why should people care enough to ask about someone’s hope? Because when we follow Christ, it should be obvious we “do not fear what they fear.” When we don’t fear what other people do, it makes them uncomfortable until they know why. And what are these things people fear? Radical forgiveness (both human and divine). Disregard for public opinion. Willingly becoming a servant to all. Death. Life.
If we never mention being a Christian, people should still see these traits in us. And any unease it causes them should fade when, with gentleness and reverence, we explain our faith.
A good friend of mine, raised without religion, arrived at faith not because Christians tried to talk her into it but because, in her words, “I saw a light in them and thought, I want that.” This light was evident in their everyday attitudes and actions, and buoyed them up through both difficulties and celebrations. Strong-armed evangelistic tactics would have been wasted on her, but the fruits of the Spirit were a compelling witness.
It’s not for us to judge whether the light of Christ dwells within the heart of any individual, but Christians can certainly create barriers to obscure it. Anger, fear, hostility, condemnation, self-righteousness, and stubbornness are all like shades we draw around our hearts. Each one makes it harder for the light to shine into the world; draw enough, and it is obscured entirely. Then no one has anything to ask about, because we look the same as or worse than the rest of the world.
We can positively influence the world’s (and our own) perception of the faithful without making demands or forcing ourselves upon it. The witness of a servant full of hope and without fear is a remarkable thing. Let us strive to be a people who cause other people to say, “I want that.”
Additional reading: for thoughts on today’s passage from Matthew, see Ask? Away!
Comfort: The light of Christ shines within you.
Challenge: Let is shine in the world as well.
Prayer: As for me, I am poor and needy, but the Lord takes thought for me. You are my help and my deliverer; do not delay, O my God. (Psalm 40:17)
Discussion: Have you known anyone who lights up a room without saying anything?
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