Christ is the guardian of our soul
Like wandering sheep, we have sinned, but God and Christ offer protection
April 17, 2005 -- Fourth Sunday of Easter
By Fr. Richard Ver Bust
We don't often think of ourselves as slaves or even servants, yet that is what we are called in the First Letter of Peter. In our society today these relationships seem foreign.
We think of ourselves in a much more independent way even if our jobs entail serving others. In reality, many of us do really serve others. All authority within the church for example, is supposed to be one of service.
Neither Paul nor the writer of First Peter challenged the institution of slavery in the ancient world. They only described a change in the relationship between slave and master.
The terminology used also goes back to the First Testament in which Israel changed their status of being slaves of the Pharaoh in Egypt to being slaves or servants of God. The Book of Deuteronomy in chapter 6 recalls their former slavery and says that now they owe obedience to God for it was God who rescued them from their previous life.
In this part of First Peter, from which our second reading is taken, the author presents us an image of the church as a spiritual household.
The author borrows from the household codes of the Greek speaking world to offer thoughts on the relationships of members of a human household. Paul had done the same in his letters to the Colossians and Ephesians.
In these codes, husbands and wives, children and parents, servants and masters are all advised on how they relate to each other and what they must do. The codes common to the day served as sources for these Christian writers.
While much of this is not immediately applicable to our own lives, we can draw some thoughts and meanings that apply. Thus, when Christ is presented as our example, we can understand how we might apply these thoughts.
Christ is the example of one who, in his passion and death, was obedient to the will of God. He suffered without rebellion or anger. Christ had done no wrong, yet, he suffered injustice freely and without bitterness.
In Paul's letters, the order of discussion was spouses, children and servants. In Peter, there is no instruction for children, but the author does lay out directions for the Christian life of a slave. We have two different groups as the intended audience of this instruction: Christian slaves and all Christians. Each can properly understand how and what applies to them.
Since we are God's servants through baptism, we realize that Christ is our example. Through baptism the wounds of our sins are healed. Even though we, like wandering sheep, have sinned, Christ offers us hope and healing.
The author ends with the beautiful figure used both in the First and Second Testament of a shepherd and calls that person, the guardian of our soul. God and Christ protect us and offer us hope. Christ becomes our shepherd when we act as his true followers.
(The late Fr. Ver Bust directed the master's program in theology at St. Norbert College, De Pere.)