'By his wounds you have been healed'

As we contemplate the wounds of Christ on the Cross, we too must trust fully in divine justice which leads us to victory

At the General Audience on Wednes­day, 14 January, in the Paul VI Audi­ence Hall, the Holy Father commented on the canticle in the First Letter of Peter, which examines Our Lord's glo­rious Passion as foreseen at his Bap­tism in the River Jordan. The canticle, the Pope said, "sketches a wonderful synthesis of the Passion of Christ, modelled on the words and images of Isaiah, applied to the figure of the Suffering Servant... and reinterpreted in the Messianic key of the ancient Christian tradition". The following is a translation of the Holy Father's Cat­echesis, ninth in the series on Evening Prayer, which was given in Italian

1. Today, after the interval for the Christmas festivities, we continue with our meditation on the liturgy of Ves­pers. The Canticle just proclaimed, tak­en from the First Letter of Peter, is a meditation on the redemptive Passion of Christ, foretold already at the moment of his Baptism in the Jordan.

As we heard last Sunday, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, Jesus reveals himself from the very beginning of his public life to be the "beloved Son" with whom the Father was well pleased (cf. Lk 3:22), the true "Servant of Yahweh" (cf. Is 42:1) who freed man from sin through his Passion and death on the Cross.

The Letter of Peter quoted above, in which the fisherman of Galilee describes himself as a "witness of the sufferings of Christ" (5:1), is full of references to the Passion. Jesus is the sacrificial Lamb without blemish whose precious blood was poured out for our redemption (cf. 1:18-19). He is the living stone rejected by men but chosen by God as the "cor­nerstone" that gives coherence to the "spiritual house", in other words, the Church (cf. 2:6-8). He is the righteous one who sacrifices himself for the un­righteous in order to bring them back to God (cf. 3:18-22).

Suffering Servant, a prefiguration of the Passion of Christ

2. Our attention is now focused on the profile of Christ that is outlined in the passage we have heard (cf. 2:21-24). He is the model for us to contemplate and imitate, the "programme", as it says in the original Greek (cf. 2:21) to put into practice, the example to follow without hesitation, conforming our­selves to his decisions.

In fact, use is made of the Greek word of sequela [following], of disciple­ship, setting out in the very footsteps of Jesus. And the Teacher's footsteps take a steep and demanding path, just as we read in the Gospel: "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Mk 8:34).

At this point the Petrine hymn sketch­es a wonderful synthesis of the Passion of Christ, modelled on the words and images of Isaiah, applied to the figure of the Suffering Servant (cf. Is 53) and reinterpreted in the Messianic key of the ancient Christian tradition.

Christ trusted in divine justice that leads to victory of the innocent

3. This hymn that tells the history of the Passion consists in four negative (cf. I Pt 2:22-23a) and three positive declara­tions (cf. 2:23b-24), in which it describes the fortitude of Jesus in that terrible and grandiose event.

It begins with the twofold affirmation of his absolute innocence in the words of Isaiah 53:9: "He committed no sin; no guile was found on his lips" (I Pt 2:22). This statement is followed by two further considerations on his exemplary behaviour, inspired by meekness and gentleness: "When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suf­fered, he did not threaten" (I Pt 2:23). The Lord's patient silence is not only a courageous act but a generous one. It is also a trusting gesture in regard to the Father, as suggested by the first of the three positive affirmations, "he trusted to him who judges justly" (ibid.). His was a total and perfect trust in divine justice that leads history towards the tri­umph of the innocent.

By the wounds of Jesus Christ we have been healed

4. Thus, we reach the summit of the narrative of the Passion which high­lights the saving value of Christ's supreme act of self-giving: "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righ­teousness" (2:24).   

This second positive assertion, formu­lated with the words of Isaiah's prophe­cy (cf. 53:12), explains that Christ bore our sins "in his body on the tree", that is, on the cross, in order to cancel them.

Likewise, freed from the "old" man with his evil and mediocrity, we too can "live to righteousness", that is, in holi­ness. The thought corresponds, although most of the words differ, 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 (cf. Rom 6:3-11).

The last phrase ― "by his wounds you have been healed" (I Pt 2:24) ― fo­cuses on the saving value of Christ's suf­fering, expressed in the same idiom Isa­iah used to express the saving fruitful­ness of the pain suffered by the Lord's Servant (cf. Is 53:5).

'Innocence had made me arrogant, sin made me humble'

5. Contemplating the wounds of Christ by which we have been saved, St Ambrose said: "I can revel in none of my deeds, I have nothing to boast about; therefore, I will glory in Christ. I will not glory because I am just, but I will glory because I have been re­deemed. I will not glory because I am exempt from sins, but I will glory be­cause my sins have been forgiven. I will not glory because I have been a help nor because someone has helped me, but because Christ is my advocate with the Father, and Christ's blood was poured out for me. My sin has become for me the price of the Redemption, through which Christ came to me. For my sake, Christ tasted death. Sin is more profitable than innocence. Inno­cence had made me arrogant, sin made me humble" (Giacobbe e la vita beata, I, 6, 21: SAEMO, III, Milan-Rome, 1982, pp. 251, 253).

L'Osservatore Romano January 21, 2004
Reprinted with permission