For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.
“He committed no sin,
and no deceit was found in his mouth.”
When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls. - 1 Peter 2:21-25
For the last few months since his death, I have been remembering John Lewis, the iconic civil rights leader and mentor of justice and mercy. As a young man and for the rest of his life, he exemplified what righteous and loving living can be. He was not afraid of “good trouble” and was beaten because of our transgressions. He did not avoid suffering but followed his calling without hesitancy or hatred. Only he knew how to wrestle with his own fear and doubt. I regard him with admiration as a Christ-like brother to me.
John Lewis took to heart the words of the author of the book of Peter in our scripture passage today. “When he (Jesus) was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten.” Prior to this passage, in verse 21, we read, “…Christ also suffered for you…” Prepositions are a much ignored and misunderstood part of speech. We much prefer nouns and verbs, even adjectives and adverbs. But prepositions and conjunctions get short shrift. We move past them with undo haste and inattention. Nevertheless, those little words have great significance and can determine the meaning of a sentence if we are careful and astute. What does it mean when Peter says, “…Christ suffered for you…”? Does it mean “in place of us” or rather “to our benefit” or something else? What do we make of the words when Peter continues, “He himself bore our sins in his body…”? Are our sins therefore mystically, and without further responsibility on our part, gone without further ado? Or does Grace desire a response from us? Does it inspire us to amendment of life as Peter says, “…leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.” Suffering for us, so that….
Suffering is an unavoidable and inherent part of the human condition. Is it God’s plan for us? At the very least, God does not prevent it. Why, Lord? Might suffering be instructive, exemplary, and salvific even if not hoped for? Peter seems to say so. Jesus’ life, teaching, suffering, death, and resurrection say so. What more can we say but “by his wounds we have been healed”? We, like Jesus, suffer so that….