April 30, 2023
“To shepherd” conjures a vivid image for us even when we have never met a shepherd. Thanks to Psalm 23 we imagine God as shepherd. “The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want.” In the Gospel according to St. John, chapter 10, Jesus uses the image of shepherd in reference to himself as the one God has entrusted the sheep; the one who calls the sheep by name and leads them to fresh water and pastures; the one who will risk and give his life for the flock. The earliest depiction of Jesus in art is Jesus carrying a lamb on his shoulders.
In chapter 21, the last chapter in John’s Gospel, Jesus entrusts the office of shepherding to Simon Peter. The Risen Lord appears to seven disciples fishing on the Sea of Tiberias. At his direction, they drop their nets and take in a great catch of fish. Simon Peter jumps in and hauls the net full of fish ashore. They have breakfast. Then, in front of the disciples, Jesus asks Peter a pointed question three times, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Simon replies three times, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.” To each promise of love by Simon Peter, Jesus bids him, “Feed my lambs.” “Tend my sheep.” “Feed my sheep.” Jesus entrusts the office of shepherd to Simon Peter, to the man who denied knowing Jesus three times. In the Gospel according to St. Luke, chapter 22 verses 31-32, Jesus says, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed that your own faith may not fail; and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers.” Amazing! Jesus, knowing that Peter will deny knowing him, prays for his future forgiveness and faithfulness.
Jesus invests a great deal in Simon Peter, a flawed man like all of us. Jesus knows Peter better than Peter knows himself. In their last encounter in the Gospel according to John, Jesus asks Simon Peter to express his love, to strengthen his brothers and sisters, and to lay down his life for God’s glory. The last words that Jesus utters in the Gospel are to Simon Peter, “Follow me.”
The job description for shepherding fits many professions including parents, teachers, aides, coaches, doctors, nurses, EMTs, beauticians, bartenders, bus drivers, police, plumbers, and pastors – whenever and wherever we are entrusted with the care and wellbeing of another person. Like Simon Peter we “pastors” are asked to put our affirmations of love for Christ into our actions for others by listening, caring, challenging, nurturing, encouraging, forgiving, training, correcting, inspiring, healing, protecting, and as parents know, wiping tears and wiping bottoms.
Christianity is not fundamentally a set of principles, ideas, or convictions although these are important. Christianity is a way of life. Becoming, being a Christian, is entering into relationship with a person Jesus Christ, listening to him and following him. Simon Peter proves that it is possible for all of us to imitate, to listen to and to follow Jesus, the Good Shepherd.
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