1 Peter 2:19-25
It is a credit to you if, being aware of God,
you endure pain while suffering unjustly.
If you endure
when you are beaten for doing wrong,
what credit is that ?
But if you endure
when you do right and suffer for it,
you have God's approval.
For to this you have been called,
because Christ also suffered for you,
leaving you an example,
so that you should follow in his steps.
“He committed no sin,
and no deceit was found in his mouth.”
[ a quote from Isaiah 53:9 ]
When he was abused, he did not return abuse;
when he suffered, he did not threaten;
but he entrusted himself
to the One who judges justly.
He himself bore our sins
in his body on the cross,
free from sins,
we might live for righteousness;
by his wounds you have been healed.
On Palm Sunday this year, news came that two churches of Coptic Christians in Egypt were bombed. Copts are a very ancient denomination who make up about 10% of Egypt’s total population. In recent years, the Copts have been targeted by the terrorist group that calls itself Islamic State. This causes horrible suffering.
When I receive news like this, I try to take a step back and pray that the “Christians” are behaving in a Christ-like fashion and that they will continue to do so. The history of the past 1600 years is all too full of incidents where so-called “Christians” were guilty of making war on innocents, treating their neighbors badly, and generally dragging the name of Christ Jesus through the mud.
In Egypt, Coptic Christians and Muslims have been living relatively peacefully side-by-side since the time of Muhammad, back in the 600s. It was the chaotic invasion of the Crusaders from Europe in the 1100s and afterward that created a terrible and long-lasting enmity between Muslims and Christians, largely because the European ‘Christians’ behaved with extreme savagery and greed toward the people whose land, homes, and daughters they were seizing.
There has to be a better way to live among tough surroundings. In fact, there is a better way.
Mark Gornik is a White pastor who spent years helping to organize a Christian community in a very run-down, tough, mostly Black neighborhood in Baltimore. In his book, To Live in Peace: Biblical Faith and the Changing Inner City, he offers us a model for Christian life much like the one described in 1 Peter: he says we should aim to be “a grassroots Christian congregation that, by its very distinctive kingdom focus, social practices, and witness, is a source of gospel joy, hope, and strength to its neighborhood..... a church that is good news incarnated on the streets, not limited to what goes on in the sanctuary.”
Or, as Pope Francis told Muslims and Christians when he visited Egypt last week, “I would like this visit to be a witness of my affection, comfort and encouragement for all the Christians of the Middle East, a message of friendship and respect for all the inhabitants of Egypt and the region, and a message of brotherhood and reconciliation with all the children of Abraham, particularly the Muslim world.”
What is our witness amid suffering ?