July 20, 2009 by

Feed My Sheep


Categories: food for thought, love, Meanderings (look it up)

I hate when I do this…something someone said on one of the blogs I read that helped to spark this post, but I let it sit too long while writing another series, and now I can’t remember who to link to. 🙂 So if you see something of your own content here, let me know.

For several years I’ve been pondering the dialogue Jesus had with Peter when they had breakfast together after the resurrection (John 21). Three times Jesus asked him, “Do you love Me?” And three times Peter answered, “You know that I love you.” There’s a lot of powerful meaning in the Greek words that are used, and many of you have probably heard teaching about it. But what Jesus said after each round of “Do you love Me”s has always puzzled me until recently:

“Feed My lambs.”
“Tend My sheep.”
“Feed My sheep.”

If I’d been Peter, I’d probably have been scratching my head: “What? What’s this about sheep again? I thought we were talking about You and me here!”

This whole dialogue, I believe, was a restoration and healing point for Peter, who was struggling with the fact that after proclaiming his undying love and loyalty for Jesus, he became painfully aware of his own weakness when under pressure he denied Him three times. You see this play out in the Greek words used to describe the conversation. If we were to catch the meanings in an English rendering, I think it would go something like this:

“Simon, do you love Me unconditionally, with all you have?”
“Yes, Lord…You know that I love You as a friend.” (a lesser form of love)
“Simon, do you love Me unconditionally, with all you have?”
“Yes, Lord…I love you as a friend. You know this.” (the guilt is rising now)
“Simon, do you love Me as a friend?”

I can imagine Peter’s walls coming down now, facing his shame head-on…he gets it…

“Lord, You know all things. I can’t hide it from You. You know that I don’t love You the way I thought I did. What’s more…I know it. I only love You as a friend. It’s all I have to give right now.”

So where does “feed my sheep” come in?

There is something in what Jesus is saying we don’t want to miss. He’s not chiding Peter; He’s showing him a path to healing and wholeness. “Feed My sheep” is really referring to the ongoing mission of Christ. They are Jesus’ sheep; He’s inviting Peter along to participate in the process of caring for them.

I think what He’s saying by this is essentially, “Peter, I do know all things, and I know that you don’t love me the way you should, or the way you want to. I knew it back when we were having dinner the other night, when I told you that you would deny Me. But I also know you want to learn how to love Me. And here’s how: feed My sheep.”

There was something in the call to nurture others that was going to teach Peter things about the love of God that he never could have learned through introspection. And that’s where Peter’s path to healing lay…as, I believe, does ours.

I have spent a lot of recent years on a journey of inner healing, through various avenues–personal counseling, co-dependency recovery, and the like. It’s been a good thing, for me and for others who have followed me into this process for themselves. I’m a lot healthier on the inside than I used to be, so I’m not knocking inner healing techniques at all. As I’ve said many times before, if God uses them, if they work…leave them alone. 🙂

But I have also noticed, in myself and in others, this tendency to focus too much on analyzing what’s going on inside my soul…in other words, to become so introspective that my line of vision shrinks, and my circle of perception grows smaller. When we get this focused on ourselves and what’s wrong with us, we stop seeing the people around us who need love, too–and we stop engaging them.

This is where “feed My sheep” comes in. Inner healing might be good, but it’s incomplete…and taken alone, I know from experience it can lead to self-absorption. There is something in feeding Christ’s sheep–whatever that looks like–that helps us get our minds off ourselves, opens us up to the love of God as we freely give to others. There’s something in it that completes the healing process by helping us get over ourselves, and expands our capacity for love. Jesus knew this when He told Peter, “Feed My sheep.” He knew that Peter would learn to love God with that depth as he participated in the process of sharing God’s love with others.

I see by this that the two great Commandments–Love God, and love your neighbor–are together for a reason. They aren’t step 1 and step 2. They are intertwined, interrelated. That’s why Jesus put them together. You don’t really fulfill one without fulfilling the other. If you really love God–you will love your neighbor. And as you love your neighbor, you will learn to love God.

Any thoughts?

Musician. Composer. Recovering perfectionist. Minister-in-transition. Lover of puns. Hijacker of rock song references. Questioner of the status quo. I'm not really a rebel. Just a sincere Christ-follower with a thirst for significance that gets me into trouble. My quest has taken me over the fence of institutional Christianity. Here are some of my random thoughts along the way. Read along, join in the conversation. Just be nice.

7 Responses to Feed My Sheep

  1. Jeff McQ

    YES, Mark! That was it! Hey, everybody…it was Mark! 🙂

    I've pondered some of these things for awhile, even taught on them. Your FB note was the first I'd seen that sounded remotely close to it. So, yes, that was the spark. Thanks for the insight, and for speaking up.

  2. shaun

    Jeff I think you really hit on it with your closing statement,
    "If you really love God–you will love your neighbor. And as you love your neighbor, you will learn to love God."

    Good stuff.
    I get so frustrated with people when I hear the *Gospel v.s. social justice* argument.
    In my mind the 2 are intertwined and can't be separated.
    That's the kind of sacrifice that God wants from us.

  3. chris

    Loved your take on that passage! There is strength and healing when we minister from a position of brokenness. One of the greatest lies is that our weaknesses disqualify us.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.