Feed Your Sheep

By: Marcy Barthelette

After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” John 21:15a

As I write, we have just arrived home from church on the eve of a brand new year. It was blustery and cold out as we made a couple of stops, the last at Papa Murphy’s for a pizza to help us ring in 2024. The warmth of home feels wonderful to me right now and I ponder a crackling wood fire (I’ll have to settle for gas) and the warmth of a cuddly wool sweater, a good book, some quiet music…let’s not forget a cup of steaming chocolate topped with gooey marshmallows. That would represent a perfect winter evening in my dreams.

I began to wonder how many people and their gifts would be needed to provide all that. First, I would need brickmakers and a stonemason, because there is no wood-burning fireplace in our current home. Next, because I’m not as young as I used to be and neither is Ken, we’d need a strong young person to cut and gather wood for us. The book would require an author, publisher, printer, and marketing staff. My music selections would first need to be imagined and written, then recorded and mass-produced, and finally sold by retail clerks. The chocolate would need to be nurtured in some faraway country or Hawaii (often considered a faraway country), then harvested and processed, transported and stocked on the grocery shelf. As for the marshmallows, I’ll leave those to your imagination as mine just conjures images of a great sugar explosion. And then, there is that warm wool sweater…let’s see now, what do we need? Clearly, a wooly sheep or two would be a priority, then the farmer must shear them, the wool will need to be transported and processed and before that sweater warms my body, someone must knit it by hand or machine.

“Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “You know I love you.”

Wow! While I’m sure I left a few out, that’s a lot of people with a lot of different skills and varying income and societal levels. But they have all one very special thing in common. They’re all sheep….no, not the smelly, wooly kind that the farmer sheared for the sweater in my dream. We’re all the sheep of God’s pasture and Jesus is our loving Shepherd. I recall a time when I didn’t like being called a sheep, after all, they are smelly and not terribly smart. But with age, we hope, comes a certain measure of wisdom. I’ve learned that when I wander away from my flock, He comes for me. When I forget to do the everyday kindnesses that should be habit by now, He forgives me. When I don’t ask the new neighbors if they have a church home and, if not, invite them to ours, He reminds me to do better the next time I see them.

“Then feed my lambs,” Jesus told him.

If you recall the conversation between Jesus and Peter, the question was repeated twice more, causing Peter no small degree of confusion. In this illustration, lambs can be compared to baby Christians, those who have just recently made a decision to follow Jesus. The second time Jesus admonished Peter to “Take care of my sheep.” The third reply was, “Feed my sheep.” I believe He wants us to leave our comfort zone and go in search of the lost lambs. He wants us to nurture them and help them grow into sheep, but our task doesn’t end there. We must then care for those maturing sheep and be sure they are fed regularly so that they will want to continue to be part of the flock of Jesus’ followers until their earthly journey ends.

The word “feed” may be taken literally or metaphorically. Some in our midst literally need help being fed and we should be there for them, but we all need spiritual feeding on a daily basis. Just as the Israelites collected manna each morning in the desert, we must collect spiritual manna from the things that influence our thinking and behavior. Be sure your sources are aligned with God’s teaching and your pastures will always be nourishing.

We meet lots of people in our daily lives, and they all meet lots more as well. We live in a very fluid society. We need to keep in mind that for each material item in our lives, many “sheep” were required to bring that product to us. Whenever opportunity affords itself, we should take the time to acknowledge the contribution they have made to our lives. Sometimes we become like sheep, a little dirty, a lot unruly, and often too stubborn to change our course. But just as the shepherd leaves the ninety-nine and goes in search of a lost lamb, so Jesus is searching for all the lost lambs in this mixed-up world of ours. We need to do our part to keep the covenant we made Sunday morning and help gather those lost lambs back into the flock.

“If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them wanders away, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others on the hills and go out to search for the one that is lost? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he will rejoice over it more than over the ninety-nine that didn’t wander away. In the same way, it is not my Father’s will that even one of these little ones should perish.”

Matthew 18:12-14

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