Feed My Sheep

February 24th, 2022

When they finished eating, Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” Simon replied, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.”  Jesus asked a second time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Simon replied, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Take care of my sheep.” He asked a third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was sad that Jesus asked him a third time, “Do you love me?” He replied, “Lord, you know everything; you know I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. I assure you that when you were younger you tied your own belt and walked around wherever you wanted. When you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and another will tie your belt and lead you where you don’t want to go.” He said this to show the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. After saying this, Jesus said to Peter, “Follow me.” (John 21:15-19, CEB) 

Jesus’s Mandate

Jesus, after his crucifixion and resurrection, appeared to several of his disciples at the Sea of Galilee in this scene from the twenty-first chapter of John’s Gospel. The disciples were out on the sea fishing, with little success. Jesus instructs them to cast their net on the other side of the boat. Following that simple instruction radically transformed the fishermen’s experience. They caught more fish than their boat could hold. Realizing who had told them to cast their nets again, they made their way to shore and shared breakfast with Jesus.

Once they finished eating, Jesus turned and asked Peter three times if Peter loved him. Peter responded yes each time Jesus asked. It’s no surprise that Jesus asked Peter that question three times—Peter denied knowing Jesus three times only hours earlier. But preachers take note: each time Peter said “yes,” Jesus instructed him to “feed my sheep.”

Jesus is the shepherd, and even now he calls preachers to be his under-shepherds. Jesus instructs us to take care of his sheep. Who are his sheep? Those who have accepted him as Lord in their lives. They may be churchgoers or they might not have any affiliation with a church, but they still belong to Jesus.  However, I would argue the sheep that Jesus wants to ensure are fed are not merely those who love and follow him. In John 10:16 Jesus says, “I have other sheep that don’t belong to this sheep pen. I must lead them too. They will listen to my voice and there will be one flock, with one shepherd.” That suggests to me that Jesus intends to reach those who do not follow him. So in essence, the flock to be fed includes all people, those Jesus has now and those whom he does not have yet.  

A Word to Peter and All Preachers

Jesus’s concern for hungry and needy sheep surely included Peter himself. Peter undoubtedly felt guilty for betraying his teacher and friend and abandoning his friend in his gloomiest hour. His soul hurt, starved for healing and wholeness. In the midst of Peter’s pain, Jesus feeds him by reinstating Peter as an apostle.

Peter fell short of God’s glory when he denied Jesus three times. While we may not literally voice our betrayals aloud the way Peter did when confronted during Jesus’s trial, we are certainly deniers ourselves. Our denials happen as we disobey God and hesitate to step outside our comfort zones in ministry. As preachers we know that we miss the mark by word, thought, and deed. We sin both knowingly and unknowingly. Peter was no different, and yet Jesus comes to him and absolves Peter, ordaining him to feed the souls of his sheep.

This story is a threefold lesson for anyone called to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. Firstly, our flaws do not prevent us from serving. Secondly, we need and we receive forgiveness. Lastly, we discover why feeding sheep is necessary. 

Available from MinistryMatters

What This Means for US

Apparently Jesus is passionate about his sheep being fed. One might ask, how do we feed his sheep? The role of a shepherd is really twofold.  Firstly, the shepherd protects the sheep from predators. Sheep are slow animals and not very intelligent. They are virtually defenseless against coyotes, bobcats, and other hunters. So the shepherd must ward off animals that are looking for an easy meal. Jesus calls pastors and preachers to spiritually protect his sheep. To protect Jesus’s sheep means guarding against false teachings, religious propaganda, hearsay, discriminatory language, and anything that might lead people astray. To protect Jesus’s sheep in our preaching means thwarting the spread of ignorance, a highly contagious disease that spreads rapidly through our physical and digital speech. 

Secondly, it is the shepherd’s role to make sure the sheep have plenty to eat. In other words, the sheep need food that nourishes the soul. Just like the body cannot survive without sustenance, the soul cannot thrive without digesting truth that encourages, comforts, reminds, informs, strengthens, and gives hope. Your soul’s health affects your mental, emotional, and even physical well-being, and vice versa. It is imperative to ensure that your soul is receiving the proper nutrients of knowledge, wisdom, and understanding. 

Look at the story of Jesus and his disciples in John 21. It’s a perfect example of divine instructions that benefit one’s entire being. Jesus—the Word of God and the bread of life—gives his disciples a simple directive as food for their souls. By following Jesus’s words, the fish they catch bless them physically and financially. Truly feeding Jesus’s sheep means offering good news that impacts people’s lives holistically. That’s what people are looking for most in this dark and broken world.

You can easily sense the division in our world when you examine our current political and social atmosphere. We seem to isolate ourselves intentionally in tribal groups. Our ideologies can differ from others’ such that the labels we use become synonymous with the word enemy. Our current cultural climate is laced with racial tension, religious intolerance, political posturing, and fear. In addition, mainline denominations are witnessing a dramatic shift in the way people see and understand church. There is a growing segment of the population that does not connect with any church traditions, rituals, and even teachings. The church increasingly seems like Blockbuster in a Netflix world. Yet, in spite of the chaos, we are called to feed the Lord’s sheep. We still have the responsibility of preaching a clear, unadulterated gospel.

Far too many people are living in poverty. Gender inequalities regarding pay and stubborn, embedded racial discrimination persist. In Missouri, my home state, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has issued travel advisories because statistics show that Black Americans are 75 percent more likely to be stopped and searched by police than White people. In addition to that, Missouri has eighteen (known) hate groups according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

It is precisely in times of questions, fears, and uncertainties that pastors can offer a cure for the chaos. Maybe not a complete cure but something far better: the hope of resurrection. How do we preach health when ambiguity, hate, and conflict contaminate our world? Sermons can become platforms for vision, instructions for holy living, and instruments to illuminate life’s meaning. Each of these is a valid way of approaching the pulpit. However, I want to offer five insights that can help us create more loving communities and a stronger society:

  1. Preaching should be seen as a form of pastoral care—a weekly opportunity for the preacher to provide emotional support, biblical advice, and a sincere ministry of presence, consolation, and hope to the community. We often view pastoral care as something that happens primarily in a one-on-one setting. However, because we are preaching to people wrestling with all sorts of hungers, there is no better time to feed Jesus’s sheep with the true bread of heaven. For a time such as this, our preaching must have a tone that is personal and pastoral.
  2. In order to really support and comfort those who hear us preach, grace needs to be elevated explicitly (or implicitly) in our sermons. Dealing successfully with the “-isms” of our world requires a deep, solid understanding that through God’s undeserved love we are pardoned, redeemed, and made whole.
  3. The gospel can be translated so that it becomes resonate—relatable to people living in the twenty-first century. If it does not explain how life is better through faith and practice in committed relationship with Jesus, why would anyone bother listening?
  4. In addition, preaching should reveal hope. As people gather in the church house on weekends, many bring heavy burdens and deep wounds. They may enter the sanctuary feeling beat down and stressed out by work, school, peer pressure, disappointing relationships, financial strain, and more. People want to know that there is more to life than their current predicament. In essence, we should preach to let people know that there is something better even on this side of the grave.
  5. Do not discount prophetic preaching. This can mean identifying and naming systems and structures that hurt, oppress, divide, or ignore a person or particular group. Preachers must boldly declare how Jesus would approach injustice and exclusiveness. Then there must be some sort of call to action. Prophetic preaching is not simply pastoral care for the gathered faithful; it is also a means of comforting and sometimes championing those outside the walls of our church buildings.

The chaos of our broken world requires both pastoral and prophetic preaching power. This means that grace, relevance, hope, and social justice must echo from our pulpits on a regular basis and be witnessed by the broader community beyond the sanctuary. Anything less is less than good news. That is why Jesus was so adamant when he told Peter, “Feed my sheep.”

comments powered by Disqus