Meditation on Canticle of 1 Peter 2:21-24

John Paul II Reflects on Christ on the Cross for Our Sins

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VATICAN CITY, JAN. 14, 2004 ( Here is a translation of John Paul II’s address at today’s general audience, which he dedicated to comment on the canticle of vespers in Chapter 2 of the First Letter of Peter (verses 21 to 24).

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1. After the pause for the Christmas celebrations, we continue today with our meditations on the liturgy of vespers. The canticle just proclaimed, taken from the First Letter of Peter, focuses on the redemptive passion of Christ, already announced at the moment of the baptism in the Jordan.

As we heard last Sunday, the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, Jesus reveals himself from the beginning of his public activity as “beloved Son,” in whom the Father is well pleased (see Luke 3:22), and the true “Servant of Yahweh” (see Isaiah 42:1), who frees man from sin through his passion and death on the cross.

In the mentioned Letter of Peter, in which the fisherman of Galilee describes himself as “witness to the sufferings of Christ” (5:1), the memory of the passion is very frequent. Jesus is the sacrificial Lamb without blemish, whose precious blood was poured out for our redemption (see 1:18-19). He is the living stone rejected by men, but chosen by God as the “cornerstone,” which gives cohesion to the “spiritual house,” that is, to the Church (see 2:6-8). He is the righteous one who sacrifices himself for the unrighteous in order to lead them back to God (see 3:18-22).

2. Our attention is now focused on the profile of Christ drawn in the passage we heard (see 2:21-24). He appears to us as the model to contemplate and imitate, the “program,” as the original Greek says (see 2:21), to be realized, the example to follow without hesitations, conforming ourselves to his choices.

In fact, use is made of the Greek verb of following, of discipleship, of setting off in the very footsteps of Jesus. And the steps of the divine Master are directed on a road that is steep and exhausting, as one reads in the Gospel: “Whoever wishes to come after me must … take up his cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:34).

At this point the Petrine hymn delineates an amazing synthesis of the passion of Christ, described in the words and images of Isaiah applied to the figure of the suffering Servant (see Isaiah 53), reread in a messianic note by the ancient Christian tradition.

3. This story of the passion in the form of a hymn is formulated through four negative (see 1 Peter 2:22-23a) and three positive (see 2:23b-24) declarations, where Jesus’ attitude is described in that terrible and grandiose event.

It begins with the double affirmation of his absolute innocence expressed with the words of Isaiah 53:9: “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth” (1 Peter 2:22). Two other considerations follow on his exemplary conduct inspired by meekness and gentleness: “When he was insulted, he returned no insult; when he suffered, he did not threaten” (2:23). The Lord’s silent patience is not only an act of courage and generosity. It is also a gesture of confidence in the Father, as the first of the three positive affirmations suggests: “He handed himself over to the one who judges justly” (ibid.). His was a total and perfect confidence in divine justice, which guides history towards the triumph of the innocent.

4. Thus we arrive at the summit of the account of the passion that points out the salvific value of the supreme act of Christ’s self-giving: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that, free from sin, we might live for righteousness” (2:24).

This second positive assertion, formulated with the expressions of Isaiah’s prophecy (see 53:12), specifies that Christ bore “in his body” “on the tree,” that is, on the cross, “our sins,” to be able to annihilate them.

On this road, we too, freed from the old man, with his evil and misery, can “live for righteousness,” that is, in holiness. The thought corresponds, though in terms that to a great extent are different, to the Pauline doctrine on baptism, which regenerates us as new creatures, immersing us in the mystery of the passion, death and glory of Christ (see Romans 6:3-11).

The last phrase — “By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24) — points to the salvific value of the suffering of Christ, expressed with the same words used by Isaiah to denote the saving fruitfulness of the pain suffered by the Servant of the Lord (see Isaiah 53:5).

5. Contemplating the wounds of Christ by which we were saved, St. Ambrose said: “I have nothing in my works with which I can glorify myself, I have nothing to boast about and, consequently, I will glory in Christ. I will not glorify myself because I am just, but I will glory because I am redeemed. I will not glorify myself because I am exempt from sins, but I will glory because my sins have been remitted. I will not glorify myself because I have helped or been helped, but because Christ has been my advocate with the Father, because the blood of Christ was poured out for me. For me, Christ tasted death. Guilt is more profitable than innocence. Innocence made me arrogant, guilt has made me humble” (“Giacobbe e la Vita Beata,” [Jacob and the Blessed Life], I,6,21: Saemo, III, Milan-Rome, 1982, pp. 251.253).

[Translation by ZENIT]

[At the end of the general audience, the following summary was read in English:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Following the celebration of Christmas, we contemplate today a passage of the First Letter of Peter, which examines our Lord’s glorious Passion as foreseen at his Baptism in the Jordan River. This canticle acts as a synthesis of the Prophet Isaiah’s figure of the Suffering Servant and is key to understanding the ancient Christian concept of the Messiah. As we reflect on the image of our afflicted Savior, let us recall the words of St. Ambrose who said: “I will not be glorified because I am just, but I will be glorified because I am redeemed.”

[The Holy Father then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]

I extend a warm welcome to the English-speaking pilgrims present today, including the groups from Denmark and the United States of America. Upon all of you and your families, I invoke the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Happy New Year!

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