Here’s a strange thing, the second reading said to be written or to come from St Peter probably never came from him. Although traditionally we call it the letter of St Peter, we think that someone borrowed his name, maybe someone who knew him, someone who may have come from his church, maybe even someone who might have been his disciple. The reason he maybe did that was to give the letter more authority or maybe in a sense that was permissible in those days to do such a thing – it may at this time have been understood not to be a letter from him, but to have been from his church, his community, to have been inspired by his teaching, it may even have been a letter written in his honour.
The reason we know it can never have been written by him is for several reasons. It is written in a very advanced form of Greek which he as a simple fisherman would not have known. It uses rhetoric and philosophic argument that would have been foreign to him. Some have worked out it was written maybe in 81AD, at the time of Emperor Domitian’s persecution of the Christians, which would have been 15/16 years after Peter was put to death.
It tells us in the very first lines of the people to whom it is sent: Pontus, Galicia, Cappodocia, Bythinia and Asia. All areas, towns and provinces of the Roman empire. It is believed that this was the route that the messenger took with the letter.
It tells us something about these people to whom it is written. That they were shunned and made to feel like exiles. They were now treated like foreigners in their own land.
Its clear that the big thing about the letter is that their life is far from easy: the letter says that they are being tried, that they are being tested in fire, that they are being maligned. It seems that the big charge were being accused of civil disobedience, perhaps not observing religious laws. Its not clear what the nature of the persecution was: was it social exclusion, cut off from talking to people, associating with people, making their livelihood, cut off from the synagogues, frozen out of the market places. Or was it real physical persecution – injury and death. It is not clear.
Although we don’t know who writes the letter or have a clear picture of the situation that existed. We know that this situation of persecution would be repeated over the centuries – people would be cast out and suffer great hardship and persecution for bearing the name of Jesus.
If we need proof of that, the last few days have given it to us.
Just a few days ago we saw in Egypt, Coptic Christians gunned down on a bus while going to a holy site. Over the last few years Churches bombed and burned down and many innocent people put to death. In the biblical lands of the middle east, it is once again hard to follow Christ. The letter says of the early Christians that they were being tested in fire, they were being maligned. Today many are being tested by fire, maligned, socially excluded, driven from their homes.
But persecution cannot be solely owned by us. We think of those conflicts between shia and sunnis, between different political groups down through the ages, people fighting over territories and high stake power plays. The little man or woman is the one who suffers.
Today we also think of those innocents in Manchester, far away from any conflict, non combatants, they also have been persecuted and suffered and some even lost their lives. It seems a heinous act to choose the most vulnerable, and to choose the most unguarded moment and the most innocent and defenceless.
What to do when suffering and persecution comes? That’s the very reason why this person writes this letter of St Peter. Although written 2000 years ago that seems the question of the day, the question of the moment.
Strangely enough people today seem to have come up with the same answer. Endurance is the thing, to keep going. To know that it is a great test that you have to keep going. The way you live, the things you think important, the goodness of your life is being tested.
The letter of Peter says the same, they will be tested, they are to endure with silent patience.
What we have seen in that day of violence in Manchester that it was met with a large wave of love and compassion and mercy. People from all over the land say that this shall not stand, this is not the way that people shall live, this is not right. And – in the end this is the thing that shall win out.
In their persecution in the early days of the Church at Pontus, Galicia, Cappodocia, Bythinia and Asia the one who called himself Peter recommended endurance and advised that it was a testing by fire.
We are being recommended today to endure and our faith to be tested by fire. In this fire it will be made more pure, stronger and more resolute.