Saturday, June 25, 2016

Who Are The Weaker Vessels?

I think we have it backwards. I think we've made a terrible mistake. By "we", I mean the church. By "we" I mean church tradition. By "we" I mean the traditional way we've interpreted 1 Peter 3:7. By "we" I mean most commentators who've commented on 1 Peter 3:7. I mean "we" in a collective sense. By "we" I also mean me, as I've accepted the traditional view of this passage without questioning what I've heard. Peter writes:
Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered. (1 Peter 3:7)
The traditional interpretation of this passage goes something like this: husbands need to remember that since their wives (and women in general) are weaker than they are, they need to be nice to them and show them honor. But I don't think that's what Peter means and in fact, I think that interpretation falls under its own weight in light of the context here. The context goes all the way back to chapter two:
Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. (1 Peter 2:13-17, emphasis mine)
And also in chapter two:
Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. (1 Peter 2:18-19, emphasis mine)
Do you see the theme developing in Peter's letter? It's one of voluntarily subjecting or submitting oneself to someone else. First he tells everyone to "be subject" to every human institution which is a tangible way to "honor everyone", including the emperor. Then he tells servants to "be subject" to their masters which is a way of showing respect. The context is voluntary submission to another. When one is voluntarily subjecting themselves to another, they are placing themselves voluntarily in a weaker position than those they are submitting themselves to. This "be subject" theme of voluntary submission to another continues in chapter three where wives and husbands are instructed to be in voluntary subjection to one another. The word "likewise" continues this theme:
Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. (1 Peter 3:1-2, emphasis mine)
Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered. (1 Peter 3:7, emphasis mine)
In the context of 1 Peter, one shows honor to another by voluntarily subjecting and submitting themselves to that person or to that institution. In doing so, the one being subjected to is shown honor and the one voluntarily subjecting themselves is the weaker vessel by comparison. It is no different in this verse and it is the context that drives our interpretation. There is no punctuation in the original Greek text, but I personally think there should be a comma after woman in this passage. I think Peter is saying to husbands, put yourselves in the weaker position by showing honor to your wives. Live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman, as the weaker vessel, because she is an equal partner and a joint-heir with you. Show honor to your wives husbands, by becoming the weaker vessel and voluntarily humbling yourselves, becoming a servant. It's what Jesus would do. Oh wait, it's what Jesus did!
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, (1 Peter 3:18)
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. (Philippians 2:5-7)

Monday, June 20, 2016

The Prodigal's Father

If you're like me (and I hope you're not) you may be rolling your eyes right now, thinking, "Oh great! Another blog about the story of the Prodigal! Haven't we read and heard enough about this story already?" If that's you, I empathize with you. I suppose you're right and a part of me feels the same way. For several years running, it seemed the story of the Prodigal was always popping up somewhere. Perhaps it was due to the popularity a few years ago of Keller's book, The Prodigal God. It does seem like that book started a trend that perhaps has been overdone.

But I think this post is going to have a different flavor - a different emphasis - because I want to talk with you about the Prodigal's father. Not as a picture of what God is like, although I think that's accurate, but as a human father. A broken father. A hurting father. A disappointed father. A worried father. An anxious father. A scared father. An unknowing father. An uncertain father. An angry father. An unappreciated father. A sad father. A powerless father, unable to fix the obvious wrong he sees. And a doubting father who often finds himself questioning the silence and absence of an all-powerful God in the midst of the heartbreak.

What about that man? What was it like for him when his son "gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living." (Lk 15:13)? What was it like for him in the ensuing years of silence, with no contact? Never hearing, never knowing, and always wondering where he was, how he was getting along, and if he was okay or even alive. What was it like for him at family gatherings, parties, and holidays without his son there? What was it like for him when family and friends started to lovingly question him about the obvious absence of his son? What was it like for him when the realization fully hit that he was powerless to do anything about it? That he was powerless to intervene and help his son? What was it like when he realized that all he could do was wait and do nothing?

And wait he did. As hard as it was, he stepped back and did nothing. Nothing. He didn't chase after his son to bring him back or try to prop up a temporary fix but instead, he embraced the gift of his own powerlessness and waited. He didn't pursue him with clever and persuasive arguments. He came to the realization that God was at work writing his son's story and he was powerless to interfere or change it. So he stepped back, prayed, watched, and waited, not knowing the outcome. And it was in the waiting that God brought his son to an end of himself. It was in the waiting that his son crashed and burned and "came to himself" (Lk. 15:17). It was in the waiting that the father determined that even though he was powerless to fix his son, he would always be there for him when needed. He would always be waiting. Waiting for his return and available at a moment's notice. He would always be there. And then one day, it happened. And when his son came to the end of his rope, his thoughts turned to his father who was waiting. Always waiting. Just waiting.
“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father's hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate. (Luke 15:17-24)