Feed…Tend…Feed…

It is interesting to look at what goes on around us today through the lens of what transpired long ago. In one of his appearances after the Resurrection, the third time he appears to his disciples, Jesus has an interaction with Peter that affectively provides a bridge for Peter from his 3 denials of knowing Jesus to him fully embracing his role as a leader. (John 21:1-19)

Jesus says to Peter three times, “Do you love me?” When Peter answers each time in the affirmative, Jesus responds, “Feed my lambs,” “Tend my sheep,” and “Feed my sheep” respectively.

Jesus says, “Feed my lambs,” not “count them.”

Everywhere we go, we are numbered. We are given an identification number at birth or at a young age, a driver’s license number, a student ID number, a medical record number, etc. Numbers are all around us. How much, though, do numbers interfere with our spiritual life? There is another scripture passage where Jesus says, “where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them (Matthew 18:20). It seems, as with most matters, quality or substance (“gathered in my name”) outweighs quantity. We can all probably point to an experience(s) in our lives where our heart was moved and our attention captured by what was going on more than the dollars or the ticker counts. We live in a world where it can be tempting, a lot of the time, to focus on numbers or quantity over substance. Yet, time and time again, we can see examples throughout history that show us that numbers without substance (authentic, engaging and varied), usually become a passing fad rather than everlasting. Jesus says, “Feed my lambs,” not “count them.”

Jesus says, “Tend my sheep,” not “corral them.”

How do I take care of that which I have been given? According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of the word “tend” is “to move, direct, or develop one’s course in a particular direction.” If we are to take the example of Jesus and the call to discipleship, to tend His sheep would be to move, lead, or develop them in the direction of God. This is not the same thing as “corralling” (to gather into a pen or enclosure for confinement or capturing). We are not called to all line-up, speak the same, look the same, act the same, and to be the same. To “tend” is to nurture and to allow room to grow into one’s true self. Tending can be accomplished in countless ways. I have only to look at my experiences tending and being tended to, to see that there is more than one way, time or place to “tend.” Jesus says, “Tend my sheep,” not “corral them.”

Jesus says, “Feed my sheep,” not “shear them.”

Jesus uses the word “feed” again, emphasizing the importance of “feeding” which is an act of providing…providing for the benefit, development, sustenance, and well-being of. There are many sheep in the fold and Jesus instructs Peter, a second time, to provide for them…not to take from them. As the shepherd feeds the sheep, guides them, and protects them, the sheep grow strong and healthy. Their wool grows thick and is plentiful. If the shepherd continually shears the sheep, neglecting to properly feed and tend them as well, the wool becomes thinner and thinner, until it is gone. Jesus says, “Feed my sheep,” not “shear them.”

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“At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done. We will be judged by “I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was naked and you clothed me. I was homeless, and you took me in.” ― Mother Teresa

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