“When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved 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 21:15-17).
If you haven’t come to know Jesus before reading these words, you might think Jesus is asking Peter to feed His flock of sheep and, in a way, you would be right. But the kind of feeding that Christ is speaking of and the “sheep” that are fed are far different then you might expect.
In the context of the writing, those who know Christ understand that Jesus is asking that Peter feed His people, his figurative sheep, with spiritual food. He is asking that Peter carry on in the ministry of reconciliation through His Holy Word. He is urging Peter to lead His church now that he has been prepared.
For many years my family and I lived in Idaho Falls, Idaho and the church I was blessed to shepherd was in a little town called Ashton, about 50 miles from Yellowstone National Park. Being so close, we visited Yellowstone often and when we did, we knew well not to interact with the wildlife. Signs with this request were everywhere within the park.
Many years ago, this was not the case. In fact, so many people fed the bears that they had to move the bears to higher ground to keep them away from the people. It was hoped they would learn to live off the land where berries were in great supply, but the damage had been done. The bears had gotten used to people food and refused to eat the berries, some even died from starvation because of their changed eating habits.
Just as starvation can happen physically, it can happen spiritually. Those who are not fed the pure spiritual nourishment of God’s Word eventually die spiritually because the food they need to grow has not been received, the Good News they need for spiritual growth has not been given.
Many seek to find their sustenance from the food the world is offering them but all too often they find it lacking. It cannot feed their soul with what it needs to survive. That is where we come in.
Just like Peter, we have all been called to feed the flock of Christ, His people. If we don’t answer the call then they will look for their food elsewhere, because just as the body needs nourishment, so does the soul.
God said to His people, “I will rescue my flock; they shall no longer be a prey. And I will judge between sheep and sheep. And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the LORD, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the LORD; I have spoken. (Ezekiel 34:22-24).
This seed of David is Christ and His people, His sheep, still long for the spiritual food that only He can give. It was He who came to earth to be a shepherd to His people and it is He who sustains us still.
Now He has chosen to work through all believers to continue what He has started. From the apostle Peter to the present day, Christ has provided the spiritual food through Word and Sacrament to build up His people and ready them for an everlasting life where the pure food of the Gospel will nourish us forevermore.
Sadly, many have chosen and will continue to choose to reject the spiritual food that God is offering. Though they have been promised a life free from sin and death, they will choose to look to the world for their nourishment. “This is the path of those who have foolish confidence; yet after them people approve of their boasts. Like sheep they are appointed for Sheol (Hell); death shall be their shepherd, and the upright shall rule over them in the morning. Their form shall be consumed in Sheol, with no place to dwell. But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me” (Psalms 49:13-15).
Choose the pure spiritual food that God is offering. Feed on it day and night. Share it with others who are starving, not hoarding it as some have done. Choose to make a difference in the life of the lost by feeding the spiritual food of salvation. Please pray with me:
Heavenly Father, thank you for feeding our spirits through Word and Sacrament and help us to share the bounty of its goodness. Amen.