Revenge by Gadget
April 13, 2008
(18) Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust.
(19) For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.
(20) For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.
(21) For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.
(22) He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth.
(23) When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.
(24) He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.
(25) For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
Perhaps this has happened to you: You’re having dinner in a nice restaurant with your significant other when the evening is marred because some inconsiderate jerk at a nearby table is carrying on a long cell-phone conversation at a volume level that nobody within 50 feet can ignore.
You’re irritated, but you know that it is probably not worth it to confront this person, so you grin and bear it, but wouldn’t it be cool if you had in your pocket some sort of electronic jamming device that would allow you, without the yakker’s knowledge, to shut down his cell phone with the touch of a button? You may soon be able to purchase just such a device for a few bucks at your local electronics store.
According to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, titled appropriately “Revenge by Gadget” (You see where I got the title for the sermon today), electronic devices are being developed that are designed expressly to neutralize inconsiderate behavior. Students at MIT’s Media Lab, where such devices are collectively dubbed “annoyance-tech.” Here is a partial list of such inventions that are currently available:
A luminescent screen that fits in your vehicle’s rear window that, at your command, will flash any one of five messages, along with matching emoticon faces. The messages include phrases like “Back Off” and “Idiot.” The company making this product has recently received requests for images of certain hand gestures as well. You can imagine what those gestures are.
A jacket that, when activated with a controller, delivers an electric shock to anyone who touches the person wearing it. These jackets have drawn interest from women who wish to deliver a painful message to men who try to grope them on the subway or bus.
A $20 handset that enables you to shut off loud TV sets in public places like restaurants and doctors’ offices.
A product called “the Mosquito” that emits high-frequency sounds that particularly irritate teenagers, usually causing them to move along and congregate elsewhere. The rest of us can’t hear the noise because, by the time we reach adulthood, we have lost the ability to detect sounds that high.
That is not the whole list of available products. People are regularly coming up with new creations to deal with irritating situations, especially now that the cost of the microchips used in electronic equipment has fallen dramatically. These inventions are creating another whole level of human interaction, though we have an idea that some of it may backfire. An insulting sign in your car’s rear window may generate road rage. The lady with the coat may shock the wrong guy. Many times when we retaliate, that generates retaliation.
That leads us to today’s Scripture from 1 Peter. It says that Jesus, when he was abused, did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten.
Now it is a far cry from the suffering of Jesus on the cross to the little irritations of daily life that the annoyance-tech products are aimed at countering, but there is a common principle.
We will come to that later. First of all, note that our scripture today from 1 Peter is addressed to slaves. Verse 18, urges slaves to “be subject to your masters with all respect.” The term “slaves” or “servants” in v18 is, in Greek, s, which means specifically “household slaves.” These are slaves who have a daily contact with their masters, for better or for worse.
Now your reaction may be that this does not have much to do with us today. Ancient society was a slave society. We are not. I Peter was addressing a cultural situation of the first century, and so we may think that there is nothing here for us. We would be wrong in that assumption.
The advice I Peter offers to Christian slaves is developed from a larger principle that applies to all Christians and is based ultimately in the behavior of Jesus himself. After instructing slaves who are followers of Jesus, the author of 1 Peter explains his thinking behind it in a way that we can all identify with. “For 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” (vv. 19-20).
Of course, our society is different from the ancient world. Slavery is not a legal part of our society, so few of us have had the experience of being flogged by someone who owns us. However, we know what it means to be held responsible for our actual mistakes and failures, and also most of us have been treated unjustly at some time or another. We have been blamed for things we did not do, accused of bad motives we did not have, called selfish and ungrateful when we were doing our best to help others. At times like those, we are reminded of the old saying, “No good deed goes unpunished.”
Thus, Peter’s logic makes sense to us. If you accept blame when the screw-up really is your fault, why should you expect credit for that? You should take responsibility; it’s the right, and only, thing to do; but if you suffer for doing the right thing, then you’ve done something noteworthy — and, Peter adds, “you have God’s approval.”
But Peter is not done with the explanation yet. H e now brings it to the source of Christianity itself, Jesus Christ. Verse 21 says, “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.” At this point, it should be obvious that what Peter is saying applies much more widely than just to slaves. Peter’s words have universal application for Christians.
But what is the application? The letter is not saying that we should seek occasions for suffering unjustly. We should not be glad for the rude guy in the restaurant yakking on his cell phone because it provides an opportunity for us not to retaliate? Peter is not urging us to seek occasions where we will suffer unjustly, but he is saying that they will happen. They come on their own. These things are part of life and Christians should be able to deal with them because of the way we live own whole lives. Christ effects our reactions to every situation.
Now you can argue that we should not retaliate for other reasons. Seeking revenge often just makes things worse. When we respond to someone else’s troublesome action, our line of thinking is usually something like, “Well, he/she started it,” and “I am going to get even.”
The problem with that is that not everyone tends to see things from their own viewpoint, and everyone thinks that the other person started it. I remember when my sons were young and they would get into fusses and fights, and it became my job to sort things out. But the problem is that you can never sort those things out. Each son was firmly convinced that the other son started it. You can say the same thing on an national or international level. I recently revisited Fort Sumter down in Charleston Harbor, where the Civil War began. If you look at what both sides were saying in the fateful days before the war began, both were saying the other guy started it. Lincoln was saying that he was not going to surrender federal territory to a bunch of rebels, and that included the forts in Charleston harbor. South Carolinians were saying that they were a soverign nation and had every right to exercise control over their territory and that included the forts in Charleston harbor. Well, ;you know what came of that line of thinking—the worst war in American history.
The problem is that we all tend to see things only from our own perspective and we don’t notice or care abut how those statements effect other people and trigger their responses. Thus, when we are reacting to an affront or insult, we may be overlooking our own contributions to the clash. So, for purely behavioral reasons, it’s wise to think twice about our attempts to put others in what we think is their place.
That is good advice from psychology, but Saint Peter is not thinking about psychology. That is not a motive for Christian behavior. Christ is the motive. Christ is the model.
More than a century ago, Charles Sheldon wrote a novel titled In His Steps. The title is derived from I Peter 2:21. In fact, the book begins with a pastor working on a sermon from that very verse. Sheldon’s book was written in 1897, and became a blockbuster, selling over eight million copies, and it has never really gone out of print to this day. The book tells the story of what happened in the lives of members of a church after they committed themselves to approach all the areas of their life by asking themselves what Jesus would do and then trying to do that. The results were life-changing for the members of that congregation.
That was only a story, of course, but the spark for it came from the author’s personal experience. At the time he wrote the book, Charles Sheldon was a minister in Topeka, Kansas, but before that, he had been in social work, and as an experiment, he once disguised himself as an unemployed printer. He then walked the streets of Topeka to see what would happen. What he discovered was that when it comes to helping other people most people are not mean nor are they good, they just do not care. Sheldon was shocked by the indifference he met with everywhere, even among Christians. No one seemed to care about people in need. That saddened him, but it also led him to imagine how different things would be if Christians would apply Christ to all situations. The book, In His Steps was the result.
Perhaps you remember the WWJD campaign that reached out to young people not long ago? That stood for “What would Jesus do?” and it was an outgrowth of both the In His Steps book and the statement in I Peter 2: 21 that “because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.”
The real subject, then, of this passage is not turning the other cheek, or saying no to revengeful acts. It is about following Jesus. It means looking at his footsteps as revealed in the Bible, and then trying to place our feet in the same places.
If we do that, sooner or later we will come to someplace where we cannot see his footprints, simply because we are in a situation Jesus did not specifically address. We still have to walk through it, and we can do so taking what we know of Jesus, and trying to step as we think he would. He will help us find the right path, too, for as I Peter also said in this section, before we followed Jesus, we “were going astray like sheep.” Now, however, in following in his steps, we have “returned to the shepherd and guardian of our souls” (v. 25). So let us not merely talk about Jesus, or merely admire him, but let us follow him. Let us walk in his steps.
Gilbert, Daniel. “He who cast the first stone probably didn’t.” The New York Times, July 24, 2006.
Saranow, Jennifer. “Revenge by gadget.” The Wall Street Journal, August 17, 2007, W1
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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