Be Holy as I am Holy
by Fr. Rufus Pereira
If the four Gospel Narratives give us the life, the teachings and the ministry of Jesus, the 21 apostolic letters give us the basic Gospel message as understood by and applied to the early church. Though Paul is credited with having authored fourteen of them, I would like to look upon the two letters of Peter as being the first encyclical letter of the first Pope. They have an importance of their own, even compared with Paul's, because Peter was the first of the disciples to be called to be a 'fisher of men', and he was soon assigned a leadership role by Jesus, often acting as a spokesman of all the apostles, and was one of the three that Jesus took with him as a companion and witness at important events, as the Transfiguration. He often confesses his faith in Jesus as the Messiah and in turn Jesus declares Peter 'blessed' for having recognized Jesus' true identity and hails him as the rock on which he will build his church, which will overcome all the evil forces arrayed against it. Peter is also the first person to run to and enter the empty tomb, to check things for himself. And finally in one of the resurrection appearances of Jesus, he three times affirmed his love for Jesus, making up for his threefold denial, and Jesus on his part reconfirmed Peter's position, at the same time hinting at the death by crucifixion by which Peter would glorify God - with his head downwards. To crown it all Peter's magnificent open-air sermon on Pentecost Day gave a glorious start to the Church of Christ, God's Holy People.
Peter announces the theme of his 'encyclical letter', by declaring that in his great mercy God planned long ago to choose and make us his holy people. For we have been born again by a new birth into a living hope, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring Word of God, that we heard proclaimed to us and accepted with faith, through which we are shielded by God's power. So we must be holy in all we do, just as God who called us is holy; (for Isaiah constantly refers to God as the Holy One), and God himself has asked us to 'Be holy, because I, the Lord your God, am holy' (1Pet 1:15,16; Lev 19:2). Jesus himself at his conception was called the Holy One of God and the devil too recognized and acclaimed him as such during his public ministry (Mk 1:24). As we therefore come to him, the Living Stone, rejected by men but chosen by God as the cornerstone, and precious to us who believe, we also become like living stones being built into a spiritual temple, to be holy priests, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. We are thus a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's possession, chosen to proclaim the wonderful acts of God, who called us out of darkness into his wonderful light. And so as both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family, Jesus is proud to call us openly his brothers and his sisters (Heb 2:11).
For though we have not seen Christ, we still trust him and love him with an inexpressible and glorious joy. So our faith and our hope are in God, to whom Jesus has taught us to pray, calling him Father with respect and love. Like newborn babies, we should crave for the pure spiritual milk of simple teaching, so that by it we may grow up in our salvation, now that we have tasted that the Lord is good. Peter recalls that they saw with their own eyes the majesty and power of our Lord Jesus Christ, and that they themselves had heard this voice that came from heaven when they were with him on the holy mountain, "This is my Son, whom I love and have chosen, listen to him" (Mt 17:5). And this word had been like a light shining in the darkness, like the Dawn and the Morning Star rising in their hearts (2Pet 1:16-19). Jesus has given us too his wonderful and precious promises, so that through them we may participate in his divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. He calls us to be perfect as his and our Father is perfect. Thus Paul's ambition is to be made perfect (Phil 3:12-14), and to struggle with all his energy to make everyone perfect in Christ (Col 1:28-29).
We may have been living a worthless life in the past, doing the evil things we wanted because we did not understand. But we were saved from that useless life, having been bought with the precious blood of Christ, the pure and perfect lamb. Therefore we should rid ourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander. We should in fact consider ourselves as foreigners and strangers in this world, abstaining from sinful desires. For though we were like sheep going astray, we have now returned to our Shepherd and Protector (1Pet 2:25). Accordingly, we should live such good lives that, though some people may accuse us of doing wrong, they may see our good deeds and give glory to God, silencing the stupid talk of foolish men. We should live as free men, but should not use our freedom as a cover-up for evil, but rather live as servants of God. At the same time we should control ourselves and be alert, for our enemy the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. We should refuse to give in to him, by standing strong in our faith, fully aware that our Christian family all over the world is undergoing the same kind of affliction.
So we need to also prepare ourselves for self-control and perfect service, by respecting, understanding and loving one another, our brothers and sisters, as family members, sincerely and deeply, purely and truly, with all our heart, even opening our homes to one another (1Pet 1:22). If husbands, for example, do not obey God's Word, they may be won over to believe without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of their lives. Their beauty should not come from outward adornment. Instead, it should be that of their inner self, the beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit. Husbands should in the same way be considerate as they live with their wives, and treat them with respect and as co-heirs of the gracious gift of true life, so that nothing will hinder their prayers. God has already proclaimed himself as "The LORD, but a God of tenderness and compassion, rich in kindness and faithfulness" (Ex 34:6,7); Jesus now spells out loving kindness and compassion as the heart of holiness and the pinnacle of perfection (Lk 6:27-36); and on the last day God will judge the perfection and even the holiness of our lives by our compassion and love (Mt 25:31-46).
However, even though we should always be living in harmony with one another, we should not be frightened to speak out our deepest convictions on matters of faith, but we should always be ready to give an answer to everyone who asks us to give the reason for the hope that we have, with gentleness and respect, so that those who speak maliciously against our good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. In fact each one should use wisely and faithfully whatever gift he has received to serve others. Thus anyone who speaks should speak the very words from God (1Pet 4:11-12). For there are false teachers among us, denying a personal God and refusing to accept Jesus as their Lord, and false prophets often exploiting simple people with blasphemous 'stories' that serve rather to entrap the weak faithful. They promise them freedom, but they themselves are not free. They are like springs without water and like mists driven by a storm. Therefore those who are responsible for God's flock under their care, should be real shepherds, watching over them not out of a sense of duty but out of real concern, not like a proud ruler over his people but like one happy to be of humble service, having Jesus himself, the Chief Shepherd, as our model and example (1Pet 5:2-4). Therefore we should cast all our cares on the Lord, because he cares for us.
Hence we should not be surprised at the different kinds of terrible and unexpected troubles which may make us miserable, for they serve to test us and to prove that our faith is genuine. Even if we should suffer insults for what is right, we should consider ourselves blessed because we are thus following Christ, who suffered for us giving us an example and inviting us to follow in his footsteps. We should even rejoice that we are sharing in Christ's sufferings, for he himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins, be healed by his wounds and live for righteousness. We should therefore not be ashamed if we suffer because we are Christians, but we should rather be proud that we bear that name, and not repay evil with evil or insult with insult but with blessing. For after we suffer for a short time, God will make everything right, supporting us and making us strong, and will keep us from falling (1Pet 5:10).
Finally, with reference to the wrong understanding of and mistaken emphasis on the Second Coming of Christ, Peter concludes that the Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness, but rather he is being patient with us, not wanting anyone to be lost, but wishing everyone to change their hearts and to be saved. For the Day of the Lord will come suddenly and unexpectedly, like a thief, as Jesus had said. We therefore ought to prepare for the Lord's Coming by living holy and godly lives, making every effort to be found spotless and blameless. In fact that will speed his coming, as, in keeping with his promise, we are to look forward to 'a new heaven and a new earth' (2Pet 3:13).
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