No Faithful Christianity Without Solidarity

1 Peter 4:12 – 5:11

Jesus has ascended but Pentecost doesn’t happen until next week: what are we to do now? Stuck at this intersection of not-so-ordinary time in the life of the Church, 1 Peter invites us to stumble into suffering – 

This is a movement of new Christians figuring out what their religious identity means now that they have converted from one oppressed religious tradition to an even further oppressed religious tradition. And to add to the suffering, these pilgrims passing through Babylon are in diasporic conditions: uprooted from home in search of a place to lay their heads.

When Jesus assured of his resurrection and ascension, there was no clarity of what “ordinary” life looks like. They had heard of the cheek being turned but are having to ponder what this means in real time without Jesus being the one being scolded and beaten. In every way imaginable, they feel set up for failure and rather than blaming Jesus, there is a call for solidarity and kinship. 

Given this emboldened calling, I wonder if we can ponder together: what might this scripture teach us about suffering? 

Scripture Passage: 1 Peter 4:12 – 5:11

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, a criminal, or even as a mischief maker. Yet if any of you suffers as a Christian, do not consider it a disgrace, but glorify God because you bear this name. For the time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God; if it begins with us, what will be the end for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinners?” Therefore, let those suffering in accordance with God’s will entrust themselves to a faithful Creator, while continuing to do good.

Now as an elder myself and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as one who shares in the glory to be revealed, I exhort the elders among you to tend the flock of God that is in your charge, exercising the oversight, not under compulsion but willingly, as God would have you do it—not for sordid gain but eagerly. Do not lord it over those in your charge but be examples to the flock. And when the chief shepherd appears, you will win the crown of glory that never fades away.

In the same way, you who are younger must accept the authority of the elders. And all of you must clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another, for “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering.

And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.”

Theological Reflection

Archbishop Desmond Tutu was equal parts revolutionary and class clown. Pictures of him almost always have him gazing upward smiling or jumping for joy while dancing alongside a liberated people. When Nelson Mandela was freed from prison, and then democratically elected, Desmond Tutu was appointed as the head of the Truth and Reconciliation committee. In these committee sessions, victims of racist torture were able to openly share their story, and their perpetrator had to fully listen; being offered amnesty if they would tell the truth of their complicity.

Listening to these recordings offers a glimpse into a form of suffering that is most vile – genitals electrocuted, bodies burned alive, nails ripped from fingers and toes. Each of these stories are followed with a guttural moan, a lament so deep that the Earthquakes and haloes are formed. By offering their suffering and making the ones who served the suffering tell the truth, friends were not necessarily made; but the Kingdom certainly drew near.

Suffering is not redemptive in and of itself, especially as a transaction for good things to come, but it is a critical marker of the Christian life. This is why solidarity matters: there is no such thing as a faithful Christian who is not in solidarity with those who are suffering. Solidarity is always rooted in co-laboring, in sharing the burdens of life, of truthfully journeying alongside those who are maimed in our midst; for it is the face of the one who suffers most in our midst that pulls us closer to the luminous glow of God.

To live is to suffer, and to be a Christian is to bear witness to the suffering in this world and move closely toward it. This solidarity becomes contagion, it spreads, and when caught, creates beloved community. 

Desmond Tutu’s major contribution to Christian thought is integrating the indigenous Zulu philosophy, “Ubuntu,” into the center of faithful witness. Ubuntu means in the original language: “I am because we are.” Despite what you have done to me, or how deeply you are suffering, I am tied to you in a tangled web of connection. God has offered this tapestry of the Kingdom, and God has created and experiences the fullness of the human condition.

Diaspora is the word most commonly used to tell of those displaced from South Africa during the Apartheid, and it is also the term used to describe the social location of early Christians at the start of this text. 

Shively Smith is a New Testament theologian who specializes in this text saying that the trajectory of this text re-appropriates and re-members what diaspora might mean for a people today. Where displacement is the commonplace understanding, Smith offers diaspora as a literary term, in the context of 1 Peter, that signifies a sharing of culture, relationships, and constructive dialogue. 

Though the text started with the illumining of the diasporic conditions of displacement, the concluding scripture, which we are looking at now, illumines conditions of co-laboring, of community.

May we remember that our faith calls us to solidarity above all else, and that I am because we are.