March 12, 2019
by David Graybeal
2 Peter 2:4-21 (NRSV)4 For if God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of deepest darkness to be kept until the judgment; 5 and if he did not spare the ancient world, even though he saved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood on a world of the ungodly; 6 and if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction and made them an example of what is coming to the ungodly; 7 and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man greatly distressed by the licentiousness of the lawless 8 (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by their lawless deeds that he saw and heard), 9 then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trial, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment 10 —especially those who indulge their flesh in depraved lust, and who despise authority. Bold and willful, they are not afraid to slander the glorious ones, 11 whereas angels, though greater in might and power, do not bring against them a slanderous judgment from the Lord. 12 These people, however, are like irrational animals, mere creatures of instinct, born to be caught and killed. They slander what they do not understand, and when those creatures are destroyed, they also will be destroyed, 13 suffering the penalty for doing wrong. They count it a pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their dissipation while they feast with you. 14 They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children! 15 They have left the straight road and have gone astray, following the road of Balaam son of Bosor, who loved the wages of doing wrong, 16 but was rebuked for his own transgression; a speechless donkey spoke with a human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness.
17 These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm; for them the deepest darkness has been reserved. 18 For they speak bombastic nonsense, and with licentious desires of the flesh they entice people who have just escaped from those who live in error. 19 They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption; for people are slaves to whatever masters them. 20 For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overpowered, the last state has become worse for them than the first. 21 For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than, after knowing it, to turn back from the holy commandment that was passed on to them.
I need to confess something right here at the start of this devotional: I don’t like this passage of scripture. I didn’t like it as soon as I received and read the assigned scriptures for this day. It has a harsh, condescending, condemning tone. It points fingers. It calls names. It casts judgment. It seems to divide the world up into “us” and “them” and speaks of “they” and “these people.” It compares people to animals. I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of such judgmental and divisive talk, in our nation and in our denomination. That’s why I don’t like this text.
But it is scripture. And because I believe that scripture is one of the ways God’s Spirit most regularly and reliably speaks to us, I decided to try to stick with this text a little longer, to wrestle with it to see if it might yield a blessing of some sort for me.
I decided to practice a little lectio divina - holy reading - with this passage. I read it slowly, out loud, prayerfully, repetitively, listening for a word or phrase to rise up and grab my attention. On about my fourth reading, I paused when I came to the end of verse 19: “...for people are slaves to whatever masters them.” Hmmm. I read it again. “People are slaves to whatever masters them.”
I looked this verse up in some other translations. One said whatever “overpowers” them, another said “overcomes,” another “controls,” another “conquers.” But they all seemed to be saying essentially the same thing. We are slaves to whatever enslaves us.
Then I brought it home to myself and read it as speaking directly to me, as being about me: I am a slave to whatever masters me, to whatever overpowers me, controls and conquers and enslaves me. So what is that? What is it that still has power over me, even though I am meant for freedom in Christ and promised freedom in him? What is it that still tries to master and enslave me? I’ve been pondering that question as I continue to reread and to reflect on this passage.
Remember my initial dislike for this passage had to do with its judgmental tone. But I discovered something as I continued to ponder this passage, which is that I can be just as judgmental myself. I can be just as judgmental of those in the church as well as in the world who “slander what they do not understand” (v. 12), who have “hearts trained for greed” (v. 14), who “speak bombastic nonsense” (v. 18). Furthermore, I would have to admit, if I am being completely honest with myself and with you, that I do some of these very same things myself. What is that about? What does that suggest is still mastering me, overcoming me, enslaving me that is not the spirit of my master Jesus?
This scripture has ended up giving me a worthwhile question to ponder during this season of Lent. “We are slaves to whatever masters us.” What is it that masters us? What is it that masters me? What is it that masters you? Maybe one of the important steps in the Christian journey toward claiming the freedom Christ promises us is naming the masters that would still enslave us that Christ at the cross has already overcome.