4-8-16 - Feed My Lambs

Sunday mornings could be a lot messier in our churches had Jesus added the words, “Do this in remembrance of me” after serving his disciples breakfast on the beach. “Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.” That action no doubt had some resonance for the disciples, reminding them not only of their last supper with Jesus a few weeks’ prior, but also that picnic on a hillside, when five loaves and two fish fed thousands.

And Jesus does get serious after the fish-fry:
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.”

Jesus asks this question of Peter three times, and each time Peter answers, with increasing frustration, “You know I love you.” Jesus addresses him not by the nickname he had given him, “Petros,” but by his given name, “Simon bar Jonah.” Perhaps Jesus doesn't want to resume the familiar appellation until they’ve dealt with the business of Peter’s denying him the night he was arrested. That would account for the triple interrogation, inviting Peter to affirm his love as many times as he had denied his Lord.

But Jesus has more on his mind than reconciliation. With each “Do you love me?” “Yes, you know I love you,” he adds a command: “Feed my lambs.” “Tend my sheep.” “Feed my sheep.” He predicts a martyr’s death for his beloved friend, and ends the conversation the way he began it by the Sea of Galilee three years before, “Follow me.” At that time, Peter and the others followed with excitement and anticipation borne of ignorance and hope. Now they know so much better what it means to follow Christ, to the cross and beyond. Yet their job description is simpler too: Feed my lambs.

There can be no following Jesus, no loving Jesus without some outward manifestation of that love. Sometimes that involves physically feeding those who hunger, and the world has no shortage of people without enough food. But I don’t think Jesus was only talking about physical hunger. He was talking about tending the spiritually hungry, the weak, the confused, the misguided, the vulnerable – all of us, at some time or other. He was inviting us – commanding us – to join him in taking care of humanity, one human at a time.

Who are the lambs for whom you’ve been given oversight? Do you feel called to tend some whom you don’t know yet? And are you letting Jesus feed you? Through whom? A hungry shepherd will be tempted to eat the sheep…

We are all sheep in Christ’s flock, and we are all shepherds who join him in caring for other sheep. The feasting with Jesus on the beach (or wherever our latest feast with Jesus took place…) is of a piece with the feeding of others. Who are they and where do we find them? Well, Jesus made that easy too. “Follow me,” he said.

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