Tend My Sheep, Feed My Sheep
Many today refuse to accept the shepherd image which God attributes to himself (for example, Ez 24), which Christ claims for himself and which he gave to the apostles. Are the faithful no more than a docile sheep? Who says John’s gospel is all high Christology? Quite frankly, if we reflect more deeply into the analogy of Jesus taking the title and duty of the (Good) Shepherd, one of the lowest professions, dirty, pollutant, ‘bushmen’, unlettered and low cast among the New Testament Jews, we would appreciate and understand who we are and what our profession, as agents of the Good News, calls us to do. He conferred same on Peter: Stoop down, step low with the sheep… feed them, tend them. A recent social media joke was put into the mouth of Robert Mugabe: A long time ago, Pastor Jesus fed 5000 men. Today, 5000 men feed one pastor.
1 Reading: ACTS 25:13b-21
King Agrippa and Bernice arrived in Caesarea on a visit to Festus. Since they spent several days there, Festus referred Paul’s case to the king, saying, “There is a man here left in custody by Felix. When I was in Jerusalem the chief priests and the elders of the Jews brought charges against him and demanded his condemnation. I answered them that it was not Roman practice to hand over an accused person before he has faced his accusers and had the opportunity to defend himself against their charge. So when they came together here, I made no delay; the next day I took my seat on the tribunal and ordered the man to be brought in. His accusers stood around him, but did not charge him with any of the crimes I suspected. Instead they had some issues with him about their own religion and about a certain Jesus who had died but who Paul claimed was alive. Since I was at a loss how to investigate this controversy, I asked if he were willing to go to Jerusalem and there stand trial on these charges. And when Paul appealed that he be held in custody for the Emperor’s decision, I ordered him held until I could send him to Caesar.”
Responsorial Psalm 103:1-2, 11-12, 19-20ab
R. (19a) The Lord has established his throne in heaven. or: R. Alleluia.
Bless the LORD, O my soul;
and all my being, bless his holy name.
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits. R.
For as the heavens are high above the earth,
so surpassing is his kindness toward those who fear him.
As far as the east is from the west,
so far has he put our transgressions from us. R.
The LORD has established his throne in heaven,
and his kingdom rules over all.
Bless the LORD, all you his angels,
you mighty in strength, who do his bidding. R.
Alleluia: John 14:26
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
The Holy Spirit will teach you everything
and remind you of all I told you.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel: John 21:15-19
After Jesus had revealed himself to his disciples and eaten breakfast with them, he said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He then said to Simon Peter a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Simon Peter answered 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 distressed that he had said to him a 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. Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” He said this signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when he had said this, he said to him, “Follow me.”
The lives of both Paul and Peter now move toward their respective conclusions. Paul, as a Roman citizen, wants his case to be heard by Roman authorities and not by the Jews, who wanted to confront him on religious grounds. Peter, after his threefold profession of love, is told that his death will take place at the hands of oppressors. Then he is simply told by Jesus, “Follow me.” In death as in life, the lot of the disciple is configured to that of the Master.
The manner in which Peter is singled out for special responsibility in the church is different in John. In Matthew, authority is conferred through the image of the keys and the power to bind and loose. Here the Risen Lord addresses Peter to ascertain whether the apostle who three times denied him on the way to Calvary, is now prepared to assume pastoral responsibility without doubt nor fear. He is first questioned as to whether or not his love surpasses that of the other disciples. Peter responds with an unqualified affirmation.
True love, as true sorrow for sin, finds expression in service to others. The desire to make amends moves away from the selfishness of the offense to the generosity of genuine concern. Have we not seen a parallel instance in which the sinful woman of the Gospel expresses her repentance in anointing the feet of Jesus? Peter, as a leader among the Twelve, distinguishes himself in his willingness to spend himself in the pastoral care of the flock. “Feed my sheep.”
Our gratitude for God’s boundless forgiveness expresses itself in our desire to serve. The scriptural mandate to love will never fail to be present in the church. Let the world say about us what nonbelievers said about our ancestors in faith (according to Tertullian): “Behold these Christians, how they love one another!”
“Do you love me? Do you let me lead you?” These are questions Jesus asks us, weak and fickle people. And may our answer be in words and deeds a wholehearted “Yes Lord. Despite my denials, you know that I love you.” May Almighty God confirm you in His love and bless you, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen!