Caring for the sheep
by Jim Hutson
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“Peter said to him, "If they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away!" Jesus said to him, "I tell you the truth, on this night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times." Peter said to him, "Even if I must die with you, I will never deny you."” (Matthew 26:33-35 NET.)
“When they had made a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat down among them. Then a slave girl, seeing him as he sat in the firelight, stared at him and said, "This man was with him too!" But Peter denied it: "Woman, I don't know him!" Then a little later someone else saw him and said, "You are one of them too." But Peter said, "Man, I am not!" And after about an hour still another insisted, "Certainly this man was with him, because he too is a Galilean." But Peter said, "Man, I don't know what you're talking about!" At that moment, while he was still speaking, a rooster crowed. Then the Lord turned and looked straight at Peter, and Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, "Before a rooster crows today, you will deny me three times." And he went outside and wept bitterly.” (Luke 22:55-62 NET.)
“Then when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these do?" He replied, "Yes, Lord, you know I love you." Jesus told him, "Feed my lambs." Jesus said a second time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" He replied, "Yes, Lord, you know I love you." Jesus told him, "Shepherd my sheep." Jesus said a third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" Peter was distressed that Jesus asked him a third time, "Do you love me?" and said, "Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you." Jesus replied, "Feed my sheep. I tell you the solemn truth, when you were young, you tied your clothes around you and went wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will tie you up and bring you where you do not want to go."” (John 21:15-18 NET.)
Peter, one of the three within the Twelve, who was one of the first called to a life under Christ’s teaching as He walked among the ones He came to save held a special part in Jesus’ eyes; one of the early leaders in the group, chosen possibly because Christ knew what would happen and what he would become in the beginning days of the Church that would be left in his care.
Peter, who spoke with such passion and such conviction, weakened by his flesh into denying the man who he knew was the Messiah, the Chosen One, not once but three times….three early nails driven into the flesh of his Rabbi, his friend, and his Messiah.
What passion filled Peter’s breast as he stood in the twilight with his Savior? What noble sentiments filled his flesh as he thought of something that he thought couldn’t possibly happen; the death of his Messiah?
But, as the story in Matthew continues, even Peter’s flesh was weak as he failed with the other two to keep watch over his Lord as He was tormented by the events to come.
Christ knew that Peter would fall, He knew it with the certainty that He faced the Cross and the inhuman brutality that was visited upon Him before He even picked up the wooden beam used to bring about death to His human body. He knew it, predicted to Peter that a crow would sound off after the third and final denial.
For one that He loved would be instrumental in denying Him, after so long together, is a betrayal upon betrayal. There aren’t many of us that would revisit one such as that in the triumph of our success.
Peter, either in sorrow for the death of his Rabbi, or what I believe a renouncing of his commission as a disciple in light of his denials of Christ when it seemed to matter most, announces in John 21:3 that he is returning to his earlier life as a fisherman.
We know the sorrow and bitter anguish that Peter felt after what the Lord had predicted came true, with the added sorrow that (at least in Luke’s account) the Lord looked upon Peter’s face as he spoke the third denial, for he stumbles outside the court and weeps bitterly.
Yet, in the moment of His glory….in the revelation of His truth and the victory attained at such a high cost, Jesus doesn’t look upon Peter among the other disciples and mock him for the denials that hurt so deeply.
He doesn’t ridicule Peter, who jumps out of the boat they were fishing from and swam towards Christ upon the shore…..his love and care for his Lord overcoming the comfort and patience to wait for the boat to return to shore.
I can imagine the tenderness that surrounded the words Jesus spoke to Peter after breakfast was finished….”Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Christ doesn’t use Peter, the name that He chose for him, but addresses the man sitting beside him in the dawning light……..”Simon, son of John, do you love me?” The man is questioned, not the apostle.
Nowhere to be found is the human bitterness that Christ felt when His disciple denied him in front of his peers. Gone is the pain caused by the failure of one of His apostles to declare the truthfulness of His words, His ministry, His very life.
No, Jesus asks Peter three times, to the point where Peter felt the anguish of the questioning and acknowledged that only Jesus could know the truth, that resided in Peter’s heart.
Even then, there is no “Well, if you do, why did you deny Me?” questioning in Jesus’ voice, no “If you would’ve only spoke, these things I had planned for you.”
Jesus restores Peter to his original vocation, telling him to shepherd His sheep; the young and tender part of the flock that would be entrusted to his care: weak believers, newborn babes, the bruised reeds that were not to be broken, the smoking flax that is not to be quenched.
Telling Peter that he was to nourish and strengthen them through the feeding of the Gospel, providing comfort and care through the administering of Christ’s love, these sheep who were purchased at such a great and painful cost, given to Him through the power and justice of the Father.
His victory prize, more precious to Him than the life that had to be lost to gain them, was entrusted into the hands of one whom Christ knew would fall and become stronger in the end for it.
Such declared love was given its powerful testimony, for there is no firmer or clearer proof of such love than to care for those to whom Christ came to save.
I feel, in this darkness of the twilight coming; the impending loss of the job because of a lack of money to repair the car damaged in the snow storm, that there are those who know me that are disappointed in me; for I have seemingly squandered the blessings that they bestowed upon me in the recent months. To come so far and to fail.
Maybe this is simply an reincarnation of my wounds; unworthy of the trust of others and unimportant in the schemes of the Kingdom. For I am a struggling, simple man who’s failures are longer than his successes. Who crawls more than he walks, and who has faced the apparent justification of lack of believing in because of his ‘bad luck’.
Five years ago this February, I heard the Shepherd call me back into the sheep fold; a clear and distinct voice filled with nothing but the purest form of love, compassion, and longing.
That this black lamb, this smelly and foul beast would return to the tender care of the One who would and did die for him and him alone. As He did for each and every one of us….whatever our profession, creed, or nationality. If only one of us would have existed on that day so long ago, He would’ve still accepted the brutality of our hand to pay the price for our salvation.
Five years ago this October, hearing that voice speak again, “This is what you will do for me” and the subsequent headlong rush into the fray to be bruised and knocked aside until the day I declared myself finished by the hands of man and unworthy for such a vocation as that, to serve as a shepherd for the flock, because who am I, but a simple and broken man.
Chris Garner, in The Pursuit of Happiness, said “When I would get an ‘A’ on a math test, I felt the dreams of all the things I could become. And, now older, I have become none of them.” Such bitterness over the lost dreams of our youth haunt us all. Such sorrow over our failure not to sin commits us to our own self-abuse.
I wonder if that is what Peter felt when he declared that he would chose death over denial, the power of the capability to do such a display of love for one whom he truly did.
And I wonder, if after he had uttered the last denial and heard that crow craw, if he felt as Garner did…the sorrow over what he didn’t do.
And, I think that maybe Peter felt the overwhelming joy in the power of Someone who believed he was still worthy of the call, still valuable and cherished despite the failures and entrusted him with the treasures gained.
How many times have we ‘cut our losses’ when someone fails us; fails to live up to the vision that we have for them, fails to use what we have given them to use in a manner that we think they should?
How often, in the church body, have we gossiped behind the backs of those who fall time after time to the point where we no longer believe that they will ever change, ever succeed, ever be what we think they should be?
When is that moment given to us, to stop loving and believing in those who cross our paths; to whom we are entrusted to strengthen, teach, and give comfort to?
If we look at this powerful moment in the life of a leader of the early Church, there is none. We can only continue to bring them back to the Cross time and time again and stand with them in the midst of their struggles as brothers and sisters; as members of the flock.
As the creed of the United States says, “United we stand, Divided we fall,” so should the Christian creed be, for unless the Evil One can divide us, there is no falling. It is when we are abandoned that failure becomes our defeat.
I can still feel my Savior’s gaze as He looks at me, standing at the gate of the enclosure, and the compassion in His eyes as He asks yet another time, “Jim, son of Ronald, do you love me?”
And I can feel the strength of my heart’s beat as I speak the words as Peter spoke so long ago……”Lord, you know my heart. You know I love you.”
Even if I go where I do not want to go. Even if I don't have the things I need to have; home, job, transportation.
Who is that one whom you know that has disappointed you or cause such great sorrow in your life? Do you still believe in them? Do you still walk beside them, seeing the vision of Christ’s love and sacrifice upon their embittered brow?
Or have you left them far behind and count them as lost?
Jesus still believes in you. It is His belief in you; in what you can become for the Kingdom that sustains you in the darkness of the night.
It is that power that He has given you to give to someone else.
The power of someone’s undying belief in another can work the miracles of God’s love and mercy and redeem that which was lost.
Can you say with the conviction of Peter when Christ whispers to your heart, “Do you love Me?”
“Yes, Lord, You know my heart and You know I love you!”
Will you accept the care of His sheep?
Christ has never stopped pushing and convicting and empowering you to achieve what purpose He has for you for the Kingdom.
Can you do anything less to the sheep entrusted into your care?
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