I think 1 Peter 3:17 is the kind of scripture that is easy to remember but hard to memorize. I remember when I first became a Christian, almost 50 years ago, marking it in my little paperback “Good News” edition Bible. It said something about its better to get caught and punished for doing the right thing, than it is to get caught doing something selfish, violent, or just plain dumb. Having come of age in the tumultuous sixties, I knew about people suffering and going to jail for breaking laws that didn’t make any sense. Take for instance those young people, black and white, who were beaten and sometimes murdered for trying to help people of color be registered to vote. It is better to be lynched for doing the right thing, than it is to be a good-old-boy enforcing systemic racism. Our Christian faith stands shoulder to shoulder with those people of conscience of any religion who end up in jail or worse for doing the right thing. Nowhere does the Bible give shelter to those self-righteous prigs who may have the law on their side, but never-the-less behave selfishly, or feign violence (like those who took their guns into the Michigan State Capital building), or who otherwise behave stupidly.
Today, the coronavirus has once again made this scripture relevant. Each of us are learning new ways to do the right thing. Social distancing. Wearing masks. Having our workplaces and stores shut down. All of this involves suffering to do the right thing. Remember; it is better to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. Since the end of February, it’s been one hassle after another. I don’t like my mask, do you? I’ve thought about getting a prettier one. My cousin is a healthcare provider and she complains about how her mask hurts her ears after wearing it for a long, long, shift. Many people today have things much worse. If signing up for unemployment or going to a food bank is a new experience for you, be mindful now of those who continually deal with poverty and hunger. In all our suffering, we stand together. We also take comfort in the words Peter wrote, long ago during a time when Christianity was illegal and doing your religion could lead you to the lion’s den; that it is “better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God's will, than to suffer for doing evil.”
Having said this, Peter gives us a memorable illustration of his words; Jesus not only suffered on the cross – an innocent man dying for doing good – he also went deep into the eternal prison we call hell. There he was for three days, working to release those held captive there. (Remember, there is a line in the traditional version of the Apostle’s Creed, ‘he descended into hell’) Why? Because, Jesus knew it was God’s will that he suffers, and even do time in hell – not because he deserved punishment – but because it is a good and right thing to have compassion on those who suffer. Jesus went to hell so that when we find ourselves suffering, we will know that he is right there with us. Shoulder to shoulder with the nurses and doctors working their impossible shifts in ICU units all around our country during this epidemic. Jesus is shoulder to shoulder with us in the breadlines and the humiliation of joblessness. Jesus knows how we miss our loved ones as we self-isolate. He whispers to us, “it is better to suffer for doing the right thing…”
Remember this. Remember this.