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.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.”
For the last couple of devotions, the Scripture readings have dealt with God miraculously feeding his people through ordinary means – namely, bread and fish.
Today’s Scripture text also talks about feeding. It also includes fish. Jesus and Peter and six other disciples were having a breakfast of roasted fish on the shore of Galilee. It is a couple of weeks after Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.
Up to this point, Jesus has been appearing and disappearing. He’s talked to all his disciples and has been getting them ready for when he will be leaving them by Ascension. They will then be going out into all the world to tell others the Good News about Jesus.
At this breakfast, Jesus and Peter have a heart-to-heart chat.
Three times Jesus asks Peter if he loves him. Three times! After the third time, Peter is practically insulted, certainly hurt.
Jesus doesn’t explain to Peter why he asks him three times. But it doesn’t seem hard to figure out.
A few weeks prior, Peter was in the courtyard of the home of the High Priest Caiaphas and was confronted by three different people who asked him if he knew Jesus.
They didn’t ask Peter if he loved him, only if he simply knew him.
And Peter denied knowing Jesus.
There on the shore of Galilee, Jesus “reinstates” Peter with the words, “Feed my lambs,” “tend my sheep,” and “feed my sheep.”
Was Jesus changing Peter’s vocation from fisherman to shepherd? Was Jesus really telling Peter to get a flock of ovis aries (sheep)?
No, I don’t think so. After all, history tells us that Peter didn’t become a literal shepherd, but instead he became an Apostle whose mission for the rest of his life was to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Jesus wasn’t telling Peter to become a literal shepherd. But Jesus was telling Peter to feed his flock.
Jesus’ flock would be all Christians from that moment to this very moment. Peter was to take care of these Christians by “feeding” them the Word of God.
He would preach, proclaim, and share the Word of God from the Day of Pentecost till the day he was executed by Rome.
He would continue to “feed” Jesus’ lambs through his two epistles in the Bible and through his story told and re-told countless times down through history.
But another way of looking at this is that Jesus was not telling Peter only to feed his sheep. He was telling the entire Church to do this.
Martin Luther – the 16th Century Reformer – put it this way:
“It does not follow from this passage that a peculiar superiority was given Peter. Christ tells him ‘feed’ (i.e., teach <preach> the Word <the Gospel>, or rule the Church with the Word <the Gospel>), which task Peter has in common with the other apostles” (Power and Primacy of the Pope – Refutation of Roman Arguments, quoted from Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, copyright © 2005, 2006 by Concordia Publishing House, pp 298).
This means that even though Jesus was telling Peter to feed and tend, he’s also telling us to do that.
How do we feed and tend Christ’s flock? By using the gifts that God has given us to support the Church. We also tell others about Christ by telling our story of how Christ saved us!
So, let us feed and tend Christ’s flock with all that God has given us!
Heavenly Father, you have called your Church to witness that in Christ you have reconciled us to yourself. Grant that by your Holy Spirit we may feed and tend Christ’s sheep so that all who hear the Gospel may receive the gift of salvation; through Jesus Christ, my Lord. Amen.
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