Today’s reading from the first letter of Peter (1 Pt 2:20b-25) reminds us that while we like sheep had gone astray (1 Pt 2:25a; cf. Is 53:6), “you have now returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls” (1 Pt 2:25b). But what sort of a shepherd do we return to, who does not come “to steal and destroy” but comes rather “that they might have life and have it abundantly” (Jn 10:10)? Peter, perhaps remembering his own experience with Jesus, responds, “when he was insulted, he returned no insult; when he suffered, he did not threaten” (1 Pt 2:23). This is not the behavior that one might expect in a shepherd and guardian defending his sheep. Indeed, in the face of such a defence, we might be tempted to say things like, “he ‘saved others;’ he cannot save himself… let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him” (Mt 27:42). Can a pitiful wretch like this actually be the “shepherd and guardian of your souls?”
Reflecting on the passion in the grace of the resurrection, Peter can emphatically answer, “Yes!” Jesus is the “shepherd and guardian of your souls!” He is no “strong-man” defender who overwhelms us through violent force. Rather, Jesus guards and shepherds us by bearing “our sins in his body upon the cross, so that, free from sin, we might live for righteousness;” indeed, “by his wounds you have been healed” (1 Pt 2:24; cf. Is 53:4-5).
If we have misjudged the shepherd, perhaps we have also misjudged the life that this shepherd offers us through his resurrection? It is not a life of ease and honor that this shepherd obtains for us. Rather, Peter says that we are called to patiently suffer for doing good, “because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps.” Being risen from the dead, Christ holds nothing back but shares the joy of his life with us, a joy that consists in giving one’s life away in love. The more we let ourselves be truly healed by Jesus’ resurrection, living from it alone, the more willing we will be to gladly give our own lives away in Jesus, and thus “suffer for doing what is good,” for “to this we have been called” (1 Pt 2:20b-21).