As we go through the Gospels in the Daily Office and the Eucharistic services of the year, we run into the same passages again and again so that even though we may not know exactly where we found them, we know we have heard them. The Eucharistic reading for today, the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, offer us a familiar story that seems so applicable this go-around.
To begin with, it seems to start as an ordinary day, with Jesus and the disciples having breakfast. Funny, I never really thought about Jesus having breakfast. It certainly wasn’t raisin bran or Cap’n Crunch out-of-the-box, but I wonder what he did have? That’s just an idle question; there’s more serious stuff to be thought about.
Jesus begins to question Peter with the words, “Do you love me…”. Of course, Peter is going to affirm that yes, indeed he does love Jesus more than than the others in the group. Then Jesus tells him to tend his sheep. I wonder if Peter caught the real meaning of that statement. He knew that there weren’t any actual sheep around to be herded, but did he understand that Jesus meant those who were still learning about him and his message.
Jesus asked Peter again if he loved him, and Peter, of course, said a bit more forcefully that of course, he did. Then Jesus said, “Tend my sheep.”
Then Jesus does it a third time, asking again if Peter really loved him. The reading tells us that Peter was hurt. He had told Jesus twice that he loved him, so why did he ask a third time? This time he was a little testier when he replied to Jesus, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” After that, Jesus told Peter to feed his sheep. Jesus then went on to talk about how Peter and the other disciples had passed their youth where they could put on their belts and go where they pleased. The time would come where someone else would put a strap on them and force them to go where they had no desire to be. Of course, Jesus was talking about how the disciples would end up just as he would soon be, in death, probably very painfully. He also wanted to make sure that Peter and the others knew that their mission now was to tend to, feed, and teach as many as possible, both young and old. Death was coming for all of them, and they needed to realize that and be ready.
I think the phrases “Feed/tend my sheep/lambs” are probably as relevant now as they ever have been. We see daily pictures of children forcibly separated from their parents by human jailers rather than armies and rebel groups. We see those children packed into detention centers, many of them mere tents, far from their parents, lost, alone, frightened, dirty, sometimes sickly, and probably hungry. These are lambs, and lambs are supposed to be tended, fed, and cared for because they don’t know how to fight for themselves. They have been denied soap, toothbrushes, clean clothes and diapers, blankets, warm places to sleep, and so many other things that our own children take for granted. It’s enough to break anyone’s heart, especially those who take the words of Jesus very seriously. These lambs have not been fed and tended. They are lost sheep, lost lambs, who don’t know where they are, or what’s going to happen to them.
Their parents are probably not much better off than their children, although the parents have many more coping skills than someone between the ages of a few months and ten years. Again Jesus has told us to feed/tend those people who have sought green pastures and safety in a land far from their own troubled homelands. We don’t seem to be doing a very good job of following Jesus’s words, and this is not an isolated case. Victims of famine and starvation, warfare and mistreatment around the world face the same problems. Even though the children may not be separated from their parents, the families still have to fight to exist in lands where plenty is a word no one knows.
I wonder what Jesus would say if he came back right now. There would be many who would rush to touch him or to speak to him or to even worship him, but yet who have ignored many of the lessons that he taught us through the Gospels. They may have good excuses, or so people will think, but I don’t imagine Jesus would approve of those excuses. He would recall to them stories of how the Israelites were mistreated in several exiles and to have, in essence, returned the favor with the Palestinians. I think there are a lot of things Jesus would take exception to, especially proclaiming oneself to be Christian but ignoring all the lessons that deal with relations with Gentiles, children, women, aliens, weak, or sick, but especially those who claim to follow Jesus but who do so by mouth only with no heart in it.
Please, God, could we have a week where the children are taken care of in the way they should be, no matter whose children they are? Can they not be warehouse like cattle, or treated like enemies instead of as lambs. Can we feed and tend the sheep and the lambs as we should? Once we try it, we might find our hearts are a little more open, our vision a little more acute, and our brains more filled with thoughts of love and not suspicion and hatred. Please God, help us to tend the sheep and lambs, in Jesus’ name.
Image: Holy Land 2016 P0379 Church of the Primacy of Saint Peter Feed my Sheep monument.jpg; Author: Fallaner. Found at Wikimedia Commons.
Linda Ryan is a co-mentor for an Education for Ministry group, an avid reader, lover of Baroque and Renaissance music, and retired. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter. She is also estate manager and administrative assistant for Dominic, Phoebe, and Gandhi.