By Rev. Kyle Norman, Crosswalk.com
Loving the Sheep
By Rev. Kyle Norman
“Simon Son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” Again, Jesus said, “Simon Son of John, do you truly love me?” Peter answered “Yes, Lord you know I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” (John 20:15-16)
It is known as the reinstatement of St. Peter. Jesus asks Peter three separate times the most important question we can respond to: “do you love me?” Just as Peter denied Jesus three times, Jesus now gives Peter three opportunities to affirm his love for his Lord. One by one his denials are erased, forgiven. Peter can walk forward as a disciple.
What does the life of a disciple look like? Having confessed his love for his Lord, how now shall Peter live? Following each affirmation of love, Jesus responds with some instructions for Peter’s life and ministry. Peter is to feed, and take care of, Christ’s sheep. We often think the Lord commissions the disciples for ministry when he says, “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:20), but for Peter, his commissioning happens here. His very forgiveness calls him for service. The confession of his love for his Lord necessarily calls Peter to a life of ministry. “Feed my lambs”, Jesus says. “Take care of my sheep.”
The same call occurs in our lives. Following Jesus involves expressing Christ’s love. Love is lived outwards; it is not something we keep inside. The love that we confess to Jesus is lived out in feeding Christ’s lambs and taking care of Christ’s sheep.
But what does this mean? Feeding Christ’s lambs involves proclaiming Jesus as the source of soul-satisfaction, abundant life, and spiritual nourishment. Feeding the beloved of God isn’t about potlucks and coffee times – although don’t get me wrong, those events are great! Ultimately, feeding the beloved of God is about connecting them to the source of life. “I am the bread of life” says Jesus, “those who come to me will never be hungry, those who believe in me will never thirst” (John 6:35). We are called to bear Christ’s presence in the world, to make his love, and the grace in which we live, known in people’s lives.
This isn’t as complicated as it sounds. After all, Peter had just experienced a moment of profound forgiveness. Peter can describe in a personal way how Christ’s forgiveness is extensive and expansive. He can tell his story. “Come and hear . . .let me tell you what the Lord has done” says Psalm 66:16. It’s that simple. Whenever we testify to the reality of Jesus in our lives, the bread of life is held out to others; we feed Christ’s sheep.
Peter, and by extension all Christians, are not merely called to feed the sheep, however, we are also called to take care of the sheep. Literally the call is to “Shepherd the sheep.” Jesus uses the same word as when he declares himself to be the good shepherd (John 10:11). In doing so, Jesus calls Peter to walk in his way. Peter’s life is to emulate Jesus’ life.
Ultimately, shepherding the sheep is about service and sacrifice. We bow down and embrace the hurts and scars of human life. As a disciple of Jesus, we are called to be a people who offer healing and restoration in this world. This is why this passage often uses the language of ‘tending the sheep’ or “taking care of the sheep’. Our attitude should be the same as Christ, who did not use divine status as a means for self-glory or benefit but humbled himself to the point of death on a cross (Philippians 2:5-8).
Of course, we are never left alone. We do not serve others in our own strength or own ability. We walk in the power of the Risen Lord; the Spirit of Jesus flows through us.
Intersecting Faith and Life:
The call of the Christian life isn’t merely about confessing our love to Jesus. Of course, this is important, and it should be something we reflect on, but Jesus also desires us to express his presence in this world. The Lord has given us a commission.
In what ways do we offer others the words of life, pointing them to the one who can feed their hungry souls? How are we a healing presence to others? How do we bring grace and hope to a hurting and wounded world? The call to feed Christ’s sheep and tend the flock, however, can’t be merely theoretical or theological. This call isn’t merely a mental exercise. Peter is sent to people. His love for Jesus is to actively touch the lives of the men and women he meets.
As we consider what it means to feed Christ’s lambs and tend his sheep, let us ponder who we are called to minister to. Who are the men and women in our lives who may benefit from a deeper relationship with Jesus? If no one comes to mind, we can ask the Lord to reveal to us a particular person with whom we can express Christ’s love. After all, this was Jesus’ call to Peter, and it is his call to us as well.
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Pavol Klimek
Reverend Kyle Norman is the Rector of the Anglican Parish of Holy Cross in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He has a doctorate in Spiritual Formation and is often asked to write or speak on the nature of the Christian community, and the role of Spiritual disciplines in Christian life. His personal blog can be found here.
Kainos is a word used in the Bible to refer to something new. Kainos Project exists to create a community of voices that are eager to explore the new ways God wants to work in the lives of his followers and in his Church. Join Dale and Tamara Chamberlain as they explore what it means to experience the abundant life that Jesus promised us by tackling ancient truths in everyday settings.
Listen to an episode now by clicking the play button below!