Tag Archives: Easter 4a

What’s Good about Suffering?

You might expect this week’s excerpt from Peter’s first letter to start at 2:18, or even 2:13, but no, the given reading is 1 Peter 2:19-25. I guess that the reference to slaves accepting the authority of their masters might make twenty-first century people think there is nothing here for them, but quite the opposite! We are all suffering Covid-19 lockdown. Suffering in different ways, perhaps, but I doubt if anyone much is enjoying it. So the question comes, can there be anything good about suffering?

And in one sense, the answer is no. Our God does not inflict suffering, as if it was a good thing, and certainly does not want us to enjoy suffering ourselves, or making others suffer. But that doesn’t mean that the experience is totally wasted.

Jesus suffered. It was unjust, and nasty – but it set us free! That doesn’t make it “right”; Pilate, Judas and others are guilty. But it is something we need to take note of. Peter speaks to Christians who are suffering, and will suffer, for a number of reasons. Some are slaves with pagan masters, others are oppressed in other ways.

He points them, not to futile rebellion or smouldering resentment, but to being aware of God. With God’s support, both to see them through difficult times, and to reassure them of final justice and the vindication of those wrongly accused, they can endure. That endurance will also be an advertisement for their faith, helping others to find truth and help.

His view was realistic and helpful in the first century – and still holds! We need a way to get through difficult times, and this is it. It helps us, and helps others at the same time. It doesn’t make everything right, or mean that we are going to enjoy what is happening. But it does mean that, in God’s world, nothing is wasted – not even the bad bits!

By the way, there is a well presented overview of 1 Peter at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WhP7AZQlzCg&list=PLH0Szn1yYNecanpQqdixWAm3zHdhY2kPR&index=27

Whose Shepherd?

There is a lot about the Good Shepherd in the tenth chapter of John’s gospel, which provides the gospel reading for the 4th Sunday of Easter (in all 3 years of the lectionary).  It also reflects Psalm 23, which worries me, because so many people happily quote, “The Lord is my Shepherd”.

Is he?  It is a factual question.  Reading John 10 will help to give a factual answer.  The chapter begins with reference to “thieves and bandits”, and a look back to chapter 9 makes clear that Jesus is labelling those who assumed a right to be leaders of religion – and to criticise him for a remarkable healing on the Sabbath day.  Clearly there is a choice of leaders to follow!

Then Jesus talks about the relationship between sheep and shepherd.  While flocks might be kept together overnight, the shepherd would be able to pick out his sheep, and they would know “their” shepherd from others.  The implication is that Christians relate to the Good Shepherd, distinguishing him from others and being known by him.  This is where “The Lord is my Shepherd” becomes a true or false statement.

Apparently this is not understood (verse 6).  We might take comfort that other people get things wrong and fail to understand!  (Preachers are relieved to know that even Jesus didn’t always get his point over first time).  Even better, he explains again.

The sheepfold is needed – at night it provides safety and rest.  We might see a comparison with the Church, or Christian fellowship.  Under Jesus’ direction, we need to go in to be protected from “thieves and bandits” – to be taught, and find rest and healing.  But the sheep cannot stay in the sheepfold.  By day they need to go out – with the Shepherd – to be taken to food and water.  Christians need to get into the world, to work, to serve the wider community, to “practise” their faith, and be a blessing to others.  There has to be movement in and out, with the Shepherd the key figure.

So I find challenge in these passages, and not just reassurance – let alone sentimentality.  How do you take it?  Can you be taken seriously saying, “The Lord IS my Shepherd”?