May 14, 2019
Scripture John 21:12-19
He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”
John 21:17 NRSV
Among the more common domestic animals in the world are sheep. However, few of us have any personal experience of sheep outside of a petting zoo. That leaves us at a disadvantage when we approach the scripture lesson today. At the time that Jesus is speaking to Peter, practically everyone in Palestine would understand about sheep. But, 2000 years later we have to find out about them for ourselves.
First of all, they like being together. They are easy to herd. They will follow the main leader just about anywhere. If there is no dominant leader, then they will follow the first sheep that moves. Most researchers believe that this submissive nature started about 8000 years before this encounter of Jesus and the disciples. That makes sheep the original domesticated animal for what they can produce: milk, meat, wool, and hides. Clearly, it is a great advantage to have sheep if you have the land for them. However, they have no real defense. They are totally dependent on those taking care of them. That protector has been a human being for the past several thousand years
In these verses, Jesus addresses Peter three times. He uses this image of leading and tending sheep in addressing Peter. “Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep.” The writer of this gospel uses images of the sheep for Peter and the disciples, because it accurately reflects the dependent relationship that human beings have before God and Christ. In addition, with these words, the message of Christ has been transferred to Peter and the disciples, so that it can continue far beyond Galilee and Palestine. This is exactly what happened, thanks to the power of Christ our Risen Lord and the love of God.
Peter will be a leader of the disciples and many other followers of the early church in the years that follow this final encounter with the resurrected Jesus. New experiences await Peter and all of the followers of Christ. In order to succeed, Peter must use a creative form of leadership, carrying on the ministry of love and mercy that began with God and made known to Peter and the disciples through Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God for the love and power that continue in Christ for us today.