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
When we begin this life, we are in full dependence on the love and care of others. As infants, we cannot provide for nor tend to ourselves. We are in need of the other.
As we near the end of our lives, we may find that our dependence on people increases yet again. We are in need of people to care for us, to help us, and to feed us. We are in need of the other.
Where we often get lost is in the middle section of our lives where independence and stubbornness take root. In this place we see ourselves as autonomous from the other, separated, lacking in need of the other.
This ferocious knack of independence is something we as Americans are quick to boast. We love our independence. Most of western civilization finds themselves not only resisting codependence, but resisting community all together.
Through racial segregation and the rejection of elective diversity, we have starved ourselves of a necessary diet of difference. We have lost the ability to stomach that which is different from ourselves. Alas, the human race has struggled with this dilemma since Cain and Abel. And we are left with a bland palette of tolerance.
But when Jesus spoke to Peter about feeding the sheep, Jesus didn’t ask Peter to feed the ones that made him comfortable. What Jesus did ask Peter was if he loved him. Love of Jesus was the only prerequisite to caring for those whom Jesus loved.
“Do you love me,” he asked.
Do you love me more than yourself? Do you love me more than your comfort zone? Do you love me more than your intolerance? Do you love me more than your indifference? Do you love me more than your pain? Do you love me more than your past? Do you love me more than your limitations? Do you love me more than your reputation? Do you love me more than your status? Do you love me more than you love yourself? Do you love me?
The prerequisite to feeding and caring for those whom Jesus loved was a love for God that far exceeded any other.
We at times interpret this as our need to be exceptional, maybe even perfect, before we can be used by God. This is not the case.
While our world often demands perfection, Jesus does not. While the world is adept at pointing out the one mistake in a sea of correct answers, Jesus does not. While the world will abandon ship and mission for a shinier cruise deck, Jesus does not. Jesus asks if we love him.
The love Jesus is asking Peter about is simple. Do you love? Do you love God? Do you love God’s children? Do you love yourself? Do you love?
None of us are perfected in this as of yet, but we certainly hope and aim to be perfected as we journey through this life. While we may not love Jesus perfectly today, are we trying? Do we love Jesus more today than we did yesterday? A year ago? Five years ago? Have we grown in the love of Jesus?
“Feed my lambs.” “Take care of my sheep.” “Feed my sheep.”
Jesus asked. Peter answered. Jesus asked.
Jesus asked about Peter’s devotion. Peter proclaimed his love. Jesus asked Peter to put hands and feet to his love.
Jesus is asking the same of us today. Do you love me? If yes, feed my lambs. The little ones among you. Not just the pretty ones, the clean ones, the wealthy ones, the educated ones, the easy ones. No, feed MY lambs. All of them.
If we love Jesus, we feed his lambs.
Jesus is asking, “do you love me?” If yes, care for my sheep. Care for those in your midst who are hurting, isolated, bullied, segregated, suffering, in prison, on the streets, in addictions, starving, in violent domestic situations, in foster care, going through divorce, surviving with mental illness, fighting cancer, taking on systems of injustice, alone in nursing homes, grieving the loss of loved ones and dreams deferred. Care for MY sheep. All of them.
If we love Jesus, we care for his sheep.
Jesus is asking, “do you love me?” If yes, feed my sheep. Feed them a meal, feed them compassion, feed them justice, feed them the Word, feed them kindness, feed them belonging, feed them communion, feed them the Gospel, feed them companionship, feed them community, feed them friendship, feed them grace. Feed MY sheep. All of them.
Do you love me? Yes Lord, you know that we do.
Then let us feed the youngest amongst us and the oldest amongst us. Let us care for all of God’s children in our midst, those seen and those unseen. Let us feed God’s sheep, all of them.
Every month, twice a month, we serve our community at the bi-monthly Community Dinner. We treat our diners as truly our honored guests. We serve them. We feed them. We talk with them. We befriend them. We learn their names. We build relationships. We pray with them. We love them.
Guests of Community Dinner come from ALL backgrounds. At these tables, there is not a label that fits all. Instead, people from across the community come to sit together to be fed in more ways than one. Feed my sheep, he said.
As we live into our call to be the church God has so desired us to be, we must love Jesus with all that we are and all that we have. Who Jesus is and what Jesus commands must become our priority. Love.
Love looks like service. Love looks like care of the other. Love looks like the Great Commandment. Love looks a lot like following.
After Jesus asked Peter about his love and gave Peter directions on HOW to love, he then said, “follow me.”
If we want to follow Jesus, really follow him, it looks like loving him. And loving him looks a lot like loving those who Jesus loves. God entrusts us with the care of one another. To follow Jesus is to see our neighbor. To follow Jesus is to love our neighbor. To follow Jesus is to go to our neighbor. To follow Jesus is to serve our neighbor.
And here’s the thing. You don’t have to worry about self-preservation when you’re dedicated to loving God. God’s love is enough. God will preserve you. God will surround you with a community who will nurture you. But will you follow? Jesus wants to feed you too. Maybe its time we let him.
Feed. Care. Feed. Follow.