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 wrong and to praise those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing right you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish men. Live as free men, yet without using your freedom as a pretext for evil; but live as servants of God. Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. (I Peter 2:13-17, CRSV)
Peterson puts it this way: “Make the Master proud of you by being good citizens. Respect the authorities, whatever their level; they are God’s emissaries for keeping order. It is God’s will that by doing good, you might cure the ignorance of the fools who think you’re a danger to society. Exercise your freedom by serving God, not by breaking the rules. Treat everyone you meet with dignity. Love your spiritual family. Revere God. Respect the government.” (I Peter 2:13-17, MCEE)
A passage from Matthew’s gospel is of such foundational importance for any discussion arising from St. Peter’s words above, that I will quote it in full: “Teacher, (said the religious officials) “we know that you are true, and teach the way of God truthfully, and care for no man; for you do not regard the position of men. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the money for the tax.” And they brought him a coin. And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:16-21, CRSV) Other important passages which should be digested are John 8:31-36; Romans 13:1-7; Galatians 5:13-14.
After these most important passages have been read and pondered, your reading assignment this week is portions of the Catechism concerning legitimate authority, CCC1897-1904; duties of citizens, CCC2238-43; and human freedom, CCC1730-42. These treasures of the Church are a distillation of the living, thinking, battling, peacemaking, and pondering of Christians throughout twenty centuries. Their importance can hardly be exaggerated. Please take the time to read them; from them arises every wise discussion of what it means truly to take Jesus’ and St. Peter’s exhortations and commands seriously in our own time of history.
In verses 18-25 of chapter 2 we are given an essential picture of Jesus Christ which each of us is meant to follow, to work out in our own lives in the world, in the home, in the workplace, in all of our encounters with one another, in the power of his Holy Spirit. It concludes with, He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds we have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls. These verses refer to two passages which, as Christians, we should practically have memorized (!): Isaiah 53 and John 10, especially verse 11.
My prayers for insight go out for all of you who access and follow this summer’s online study of the letters of Peter. JC