One of my favorite things to do when I am feeling out of sorts is to reorient my mind with the words and actions of Jesus. I was recently reminded of a passage that I’ve often overlooked in John. It is found in John 21 where Jesus is waiting on the shore for the disciples who have been out fishing. This is noted as the third time Jesus revealed Himself to the disciples following his resurrection.
There’s a lot to consider in this passage, including the interaction we see between Jesus and the disciples, before they know it is him. It’s interesting to note that Jesus finds them doing what they were before he called them, out on the water fishing. We also see another miracle take place. After a night of casting their net with zero fish to show for it, Jesus tells them to cast their net on the other side. At this point, the disciples are unaware that it is Jesus. They cast their net and haul in such a load that the net was barely able to hold it all—153 fish! John, the beloved disciple, immediately says; “It is the Lord!” (v. 7)
They bring the fish (after Peter excitedly jumps in and swims to shore) and Jesus is waiting for them on the shore. He has prepared a meal of fish and bread over an open fire and invites them to “Come and have breakfast” (v. 12). What love and provision Jesus shows these men, His friends and followers who have endured much over their time together with Him.
We then see that after they share this meal, Jesus initiates what is most likely a difficult but necessary conversation with Peter, whom he calls “Simon.” Imagine how Peter must have felt after his betrayal of Jesus. Yet we see the Savior’s kindness toward Peter as He enters into this time of restorative dialogue with this disciple.
We notice that Jesus asks basically the same question three times in various forms: “Simon, do you love me?”. Peter (Simon) emphatically answers each time, “Yes, Lord. You know that I love you.” The final time, Peter is grieved and answers, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you” (v. 17). Peter knows that Jesus sees what is in his heart and though he failed the first test when he betrayed Jesus, it is obvious that his heart is aligned and yielded to his Savior once again.
We see that each time Peter answers, Jesus responds to him with a command. The command he gave is to “Feed my sheep.” “Shepherd my sheep.” “Feed my sheep.” It’s interesting to note that just a few chapters earlier in John 10, we see that Jesus introduces two “I Am” statements which both refer to sheep: He calls himself the “gate for the sheep” and the “Good Shepherd.” John 10:10 is found in the midst of this passage and one that we often quote on its own without reading it in its entire context.
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come so that they may have life, and may have it abundantly.” John 10:10
We like to stop there. But if we keep reading, here’s what else we see.
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.” (John 10:11,15)
I love what Matthew Henry says in his commentary on these verses in John 21:
“Before Christ would commit His sheep to his (Peter’s) care, He asked him, Lovest thou me? Christ has such a tender regard to his flock that He will not trust it with any but those that love Him, and therefore will love all that are His for His sake. Those that do not truly love Christ will never truly love the souls of men, or will naturally care for their state as they should; nor will that minister love his work that does not love his Master. It is the duty of all Christ’s ministers to feed His lambs and sheep. Feed them, that is, teach them; for the doctrine of the gospel is spiritual food.”
The biggest takeaway for me from these passages is this: we can find ourselves wrapped up in the doing of ministry, in the planning, the strategizing, the achieving, the rituality, that we can fail in all of our efforts to make sure the sheep are actually fed and not just that, but are thriving. Feeding involves tending to, caring for, noticing signs of malnourishment, as well as leading them to lifegiving pastures.
Feed my sheep. It mattered to Jesus—it must matter to us.