When readers in 2017 read all of First Peter, we encounter
the author’s apparent acceptance of oppressive institutions
of his day: economic, political, and ethnic forms of slavery;
inequitable relationships between wives and husbands. But
throughout this epistle runs a call to transcend unjust suffering,
looking to the powerful experience of Jesus, the shepherd and
keeper of our souls. As we listen for the higher and deeper truths
that lie at the heart of Peter’s letter, we recall the profound suffering
of the early generations of Jesus’ followers for the sake of
their faith. How did they endure? Like Stephen (Acts 6–7), they
were known for their love and their forgiveness, in life and in
death. This courageous and loving witness gave birth to new
generations of Jesus’ flock. Death does not have the final word
when we trust in this resurrected Lord.
Where have we encountered unjust suffering? As a pastor,
I learned that humans, when fearful and anxious, often relieve
their anxiety by lashing out at others, usually targeting the most
vulnerable or responsible persons and groups. Scapegoating
can occur when a child has had a tough day at school and upon
coming home melts down. A parent, who doesn’t deserve this
behavior, may hopefully provide a safe haven for the discharge
of this fearful anxiety. But a parent after a rough day can lash
out at a spouse or a child and do serious harm. On a grand scale,
Jesus became an object of such violence in its deadliest form.
Systems of oppression magnify our fearful anxiety. Our suffering
can come from systemic or transient forms of oppression. But
the transcendent love of God that we see in Jesus can triumph
in, through, and beyond unjust—and even deadly—suffering.
Lord, you call us to end the suffering we cause others. Transform us in the midst of our own suffering as we discover that you are our trustworthy shepherd. Amen.
Three of the texts use the image of shepherd and sheep. Psalm 23 and John 10 picture the familiar relationship of trust that sheep exhibit toward the shep- herd. The shepherd places himself between the dependent sheep and the aggressive enemy to ward off destruction and exploitation. John 10 and 1 Peter 2 introduce the costly price paid for protection. The sheep’s safety comes with immense and undeserved sacrifice. In 1 Peter 2, the shepherd’s sacrifice makes possible the return of wayward sheep who have wandered away from the shepherd’s protection.
• Read Acts 2:42-47. How has joining with other believers in prayer, fellowship, and study strengthened your faith?
• Read Psalm 23. What narrow passages of life have you navigated? Upon whom did you depend during that time?
• Read 1 Peter 2:19-25. When have you encountered unjust suffering? What redemptive value did it hold for you?
• Read John 10:1-10. “I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved.” How have you allowed Jesus to be the gate to your discipleship?
Respond by posting a prayer.
I join many of those who will pray for you as you seek to discern what you are called to be at this moment. May God grant you the courage to fulfill that calling. May we all open our eyes and see the misery, open our ears and hear the cries of God’s people, and, like God through the Lord Jesus Christ, be incarnate amongst them.”
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