First Sunday after Easter: Milk It Does The Soul Good
Remember those ads and commercials that relied solely on testimonials from milk mustached celebrities? That was the dairy industry’s attempt to make drinking milk cool. Celebrities awaited their turn to show off a white mustache on their upper lip and have their image plastered on a poster with the lowercase question, “got milk?,”.
Or How about this one: “Milk: It Does the Body Good”
In the 1980s, milk marketers began this commercial campaign in attempts to reverse falling sales. The campaign positioned milk as necessary for strong bones and to prevent osteoporosis, (That's when the body loses too much bone, makes too little bone, or both.)
Now from the introit for today we read: 1 Peter 2:1-3
So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure rational milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.
The subject of a pure rational milk mentioned in St. Peters letter to Christians scattered throughout the northern areas of Asia Minor, was not a milk campaign. Nor was he referring to Goats milk, Cows milk or any other kind of dairy that comes form a four hooved beast. This...pun intended, is “an animal of a different color.” and Saint Peter "milks" his illustration for all it is worth.
In all seriousness, this is a passage with huge implications for the Church at this particular moment in our history. Saint Peter’s words are rich with insight and deep with meaning. If you have any interest in growing spiritually, pay attention to what Saint Peter says because he is speaking to you. And if you haven’t been growing as you would like, pay even closer attention because he connects two things that we often keep separate.
You can see those two things quite clearly in verses 1 and 2. Verse 1 speaks of five wrong attitudes that must be put out of the Christian life. When Peter says “put away,” he uses a verb that was used for stripping off dirty clothes. If you are a Christian, you must strip these five things out of your life: malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Becoming a Christian means changing your wardrobe. These five attitudes went out of style when you were born again in baptism.
The word malice refers to evil actions that characterize the pagan world. It’s a general term for evil in all its various forms. Malice is a desire to hurt someone with words or deeds. It speaks of a smoldering resentment that causes you to lash out at others.
As a fisherman, Saint Peter would have understood the word deceit, which really means to “bait the hook.” It’s what you do when you play a trick in order to get your way. You are deceitful when you tell a lie or omit the truth in order to gain a personal advantage. Deceit is a clever form of deliberate dishonesty.
The word hypocrisy comes from the Greek theater and referred to the practice of putting on a mask and playing a part on stage. A hypocrite is someone who pretends to be something he is not.
Envy was one of the seven deadly sins. One writer called envy the last sin Christians will confess because it is so ugly. Envy is jealousy at the success of others or happiness at another’s misfortune. It is the poison of the soul that turns you into a resentful, angry, grouchy, miserable, critical person.
The term slander translates a Greek word that literally means to “speak down” about someone. It includes gossip, tale bearing, backbiting, spreading rumors, passing along a bad report, taking cheap shots, using humor to lacerate others, disparaging comments, unkind words. You can slander someone with the raised eyebrow, the unfinished sentence, veiled accusations, twisting the truth to make another person look bad, using subtle nuance to give a negative cast, judging others unfairly, and putting others down to make yourself look good. Slander is usually the fruit of envy, and because it is almost always done behind the back of another person, it is the seedbed of hypocrisy.
If Your Horizontal is Messed Up …
Let’s consider the second thing that Peter talks about in this passage. Verse 2 challenges us to crave or desire “pure spiritual milk.”
“Clement of Alexandria says, concerning this verse, ‘As new-born babes, desire ye the word!’ Yes, it is the Word, the Milk of those who are converted and become little children, who are born again of the Holy Ghost; it prepares them for the solid food of the eternal feast, that is, for the Word unveiled.”
The milk of the Word was not only a symbol of the the scriptures it also was a favorite symbol of the Eucharist in the Early Church.
St. Perpetua relates, that, on the evening before she and her companions were to suffer martyrdom, her Pastor put a delicious milk into her mouth: the details she gives of that touching scene, show us that she is speaking of the Blessed Sacrament.
We are to crave the milk of God’s Word the way a baby craves its mother’s breast.
Babies have a way of letting you know when they are hungry. The baby gets fussy and begins to cry, and there is nothing to be done but to feed him. Milk for a baby is not a fringe benefit. It’s necessary for life. By using this image, Peter doesn’t mean that his readers were all brand-new or “baby” Christians. And he’s not comparing milk to meat, as the author of Hebrews does. Peter means that we are all to be as hungry for God’s Word as a baby is for its mother’s milk. And the reason is clear—"so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.” There is an important progression here:
The Word of God for the believer is like milk to a baby.
We need the Word like a baby needs to drink milk.
Just as babies cannot grow without milk, we cannot grow without the Word.
The key to verse 2 is the word “long,” which means deep desire or a craving that leads to vigorous action. The word means to yearn for something to the point that it becomes a consuming desire.
Let me put these two thoughts together:
1) We are to lay aside the rotten attitudes that hinder our brotherly love. That’s verse 1.
2) We are to earnestly long for God’s Word so we can grow spiritually. That’s verse 2.
We can say this in a slightly different way:
Verse 1 describes certain horizontal sins that we need to put off.
Verse 2 describes the vertical reality of spiritual growth and a closer walk with God.
Here is Peter’s whole point: The way we treat one another has a direct impact on our relationship with God. As long as we harbor these relational sins and wrong attitudes, we will never grow spiritually. These relational sins are like junk food of the soul.
They choke off our craving for the Word so that instead of growing, we stay just as we are.
You can treat people unkindly and gossip about them and harbor bitterness, you can have a sharp tongue and a critical spirit and you can look down your nose at people who aren’t like you. As long as you do that, you will never grow spiritually not even if you participate in the Holy Eucharist seven times a week and study the scriptures every day. Those relational sins will choke off the Word of God in your life. Whether it is Christ the Word in the Eucharist, or Christ the Word in the scriptures. That explains why some people can come to church for years and never get better. They’re harboring a relational garbage pit on the inside. They make excuses for their envy, they ignore their gossip, they make light of their cutting comments, and they justify their meanness toward others. And they don’t grow because they can’t grow.
When your horizontal is messed up, your vertical will never be right. God has wired us up so that the horizontal and the vertical go together. Saint John the beloved says it very plainly in his first epistle: “If any man say, I love God, and hateth his brother; he is a liar. For he that loveth not his brother, whom he seeth, how can he love God, whom he seeth not? ” (I John 4:20). We cannot say, “I hate you” to a friend or family member and then say, “Lord, I love you. Please bless me right now.” God says, “No deal.” It doesn’t work that way.
In verse 3 Peter explains the heart of the problem and a solution to the problem when he says, “if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” Do you see how it all comes back to God once again? Loving your brothers isn’t about you or them. It’s about God. Spiritual growth isn’t about you. It’s about God!
When we are angry and bitter …
When we begin to envy others …
When we criticize those who aren’t like us …
When we pass along rumors …
When we respond harshly to those who bother us …
When we lose our temper …
When we answer hastily with foolish words …
When we judge others harshly …
When you answer your spouse with harsh, cruel words …
When you are impatient and irritable toward your children …
When you have no time to be kind to the less fortunate …
When you go through your day with a perpetual scowl …
When we act like that, it is always because we have forgotten the goodness of the Lord. Psalm 34:8 says, “Taste and see that the LORD is good.” God tastes better than sin! Revenge is sweet, but God is sweeter. Sin brings pleasure for a moment, but with God there are eternal joys. Some of us have forgotten what we were like, and we have forgotten where we came from, and we have forgotten the pit we were in before Jesus rescued us. But when you forget God’s goodness, it’s easy to become critical and judgmental of others. Your bitterness will kill your appetite for his sweetness, or his sweetness will dispel your bitterness. You can’t have both at the same time!
Today and every day let us pray, “Make me thirsty for you, O Lord!”