The first few verses of St. Peter’s first open letter to scattered Christians are so rich in the central realities of the Good News that they are worth dwelling upon and pondering at some length. A dynamite word which confronts us in verse 1 is “chosen.” This word is so powerful that it would suffice to serve as the title of a novel or an epic poem of some kind. In this context related to the gospel message, it is intimately connected with “the foreknowledge of God the Father (and)..the sanctifying work of the Spirit” (verse 2). “Chosen,” we find in the same verse, also leads individuals into obedience to Jesus Christ, and the rather frightening image of being “sprinkled with His blood.” Oy. Yes, this is the stuff of a great adventure novel. And it is one based on something that really happened!
It is vital to remember that Peter’s letter was written to the first generation of Christians, a very high percentage of whom were Jews, recognizing that Jesus Christ, whom they had chosen to follow, was their Christ, their Messiah. They had a strong sense of their own history and the continuity of the faith as it was now fulfilled in the life and death and Resurrection of Jesus. Their becoming Christians was an entering into the “new look,” and yet, a continuity of covenant relationship, with God: For you are a people holy to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession, out of all the peoples that are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set His love upon you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples; but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath which He swore to your fathers…Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love Him and keep His commandments, to a thousand generations…(Deuteronomy 7:6-9) And these people would have recognized the sanctifying effect of the sprinkling of blood, since it was a picture of the atoning for sin which continued to be practiced, year after year, in their temple worship; that is, until the destruction of that temple took place in A.D. 70. (See the original institution of this aspect of worship in Exodus 12:1-14 and Leviticus 1:1-6).
The Catholic Commentary (see Sources and Resources) says that Peter could easily have stopped after his greeting to the churches in verse 1 and moved on into the body of the letter, but “he adds three short phrases that tie his message directly to the work of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In short, Peter gives a Trinitarian description of how the Christian people are called and redeemed” (CCSS, p.28) indeed, of how we are “chosen” in this wonderful time of covenant fulfillment. And so, what we find right at the beginning of this communication from our first Pope is something intensely theological, something we’d learned to expect quite recently from former Pope Benedict XVI, in fact. And it is an action-definition (suggestive of our current Pope Francis) which leads us to an intuitive and experienced-based glimpse of the Trinity, the Three-Personed God who created all that is, and who knows (foreknows, in fact) all that is, including the very movements of our individual hearts.
An encouraging prayer concludes Peter’s greeting in this letter: May grace and peace be multiplied to you. “In the Greek culture of the day it was conventional to offer grace, (charis) as a form of greeting. But in the New Covenant the term ‘grace’ takes on a much more significant meaning because of the work of Christ, and Peter will make grace a key theme of the letter. The offer of peace was more typical of Jewish greetings. Together ‘grace and peace’ sum up the early Christian expression of blessing.” (CCSS, p. 29)
Grace and peace to you this week, JC