And so, discard all trace of malice, every devious and hypocritical attitude, as well as all coveting and bad-mouthing, and instead hunger deeply for the pure milk of this word, as any newborn will do, in order that you may grow into this [complete] deliverance, since you have already had a taste of the goodness of the Lord. This is the One you are approaching, a living stone, who on the one hand has been discarded as rubble by men but, on the other, set aside as precious by God, and now since you [with Him] are living stones being built into a spiritual house, as a holy priesthood carrying spiritual sacrifices to God through Jesus Christ, all because, as it stands written: Note well that I set in place a stone in Zion, a specially chosen precious corner stone, and the one believing in Him will not be put to shame. Yours is the honour therefore to believe in Him, while to those who believe not this is but a case of a stone rejected by those building the house, which having now become chief corner-stone is but a stone to stumble over and a rock, an obstacle to trip over for those who stumble in disobedience to the message by which they gained appointment. But you are kin of a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people with a purpose, so that you may proclaim the great good of Him who called you forth out of darkness into His marvellous light. You are those who, in times past, were not anyone, but now you are people of God. Once you lived without [this] mercy; now you live by [this] mercy.
You will recall that I suggested that we test our understanding of this man, Peter, against what we find of him here in his letter. This is such a rich account in literary terms that we might find it difficult to combine that with an image of a gruff, impetuousness fisherman from Lake Galilee who, we might have surmised, was more likely to shout off his mouth before thinking than recite poetically the wonders of the Lord. If there are any of those stereo-typed personal characteristics here they nevertheless "come through" to us from a framework of a man who claims that his view of the world has now been formed by none other than the Son of God Himself. In Peter's writings we can find elements that we can put together to make the conventional "Big Fisherman" stereotype but, that being the case, if such personal traits are openly displayed in Peter's letters, we should not presume that he was somehow blind to them. After all, Peter was discipled as one of Jesus' "inner circle". The New Testament is not hiding Peter's difficulties but disclosing them. We can assume that he knew his own tendencies only too well. From what he writes it is us who are confronted by his confession that what he knows about God, about himself, about the world, about his ethnic background, about Jesus Christ - we might say the "full kaboodle" - has been taught to him by this same Jesus. This is the Rabbi who pulled him up short during one of his most pious and memorable devotional moments. He told him straight that if he didn't watch it, he would be the one who tripped up the Son of God according to Satan's own scheming. Who, having been on the receiving end of such a rebuke from Jesus, as he was on that occasion
Get behind me Satan!
could ever forget it? On Peter's confessing Him as the Son of God, the Saviour who was to come into the world, Jesus had commended his openness to God's revelation. He named him Peter Πέτρος, the πέτρα upon whom the Christ would build His church. But when a short time later, Peter presumed to correct Jesus and tell Him that what the scripture had said about the suffering servant wouldn't come about on His head. Jesus issued His clear and unmistakable rebuke. Jesus would have none of it. "Discarding all trace" of that presumption ascription to Himself by Peter, Jesus explained to him that he was nothing but a πέτρα σκανδάλον (a rock of offense - see Matthew 16: 18, 23).
Now this then is the letter of that man. Peter came to know, first hand, that he needed redemption from the vain inheritance upon which he had tended to rely (1:18). He was also the disciple greatly confused when Jesus told Him what was to be expected of Him in tending His sheep with tender love (θιλέω) and sacrificial care (άγαπή) (John 21). In his office as a shepherd, Peter had to come to know just how much new-born lambs thirst for the pure milk of God's word that brings life. This then is the letter of a man, catapulted into a shepherd's role, serving the flock, of which he had previously little, if any, understanding, who has now tasted and experienced the milk of God's word for himself. It has strengthened and restored him. That is why he can call upon his readers to taste and see just how good and merciful the Lord God is.
In literary terms, it seems disconcerting for us that Peter is referring to the tending of the flock of new born lambs with pure milky nourishment in one sentence, and then in the next sentence has his readers join him on a building site where the temple of God is being constructed, with those responsible having trashed the most precious of stones. The leap, however, makes sense in terms of what we know of Peter's life. Who can blame him for mixing metaphors when we realize that the one discarded has been made the corner-stone is none other than the Lamb of God who was slain!
The experience of being rebuked by Jesus as a πέτρα σκανδάλον - an offensive barrier to God's purposes - is obviously in the forefront of Peter's thoughts here. But he does not stay there. Peter the rock, Peter the fisherman, was also instructed by Jesus to feed His lambs. And so in telling his readers how their identity has been established, he is clearly recalling how the Good News dawned upon him. He too is of a
… chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people with purpose, … proclaiming the great good of Him, having been called out of darkness into His marvellous light.
Like those to whom he writes, he can write with complete solidarity with the Lord's promises without which he is not anyone; but now he joins with all the people of God, laying aside all those characteristics which represent life outside of God's mercy. Life now flourishes.
A blessing rests on those who are merciful; they shall have mercy shown to them.