Feed My Lambs by Rev. Richard Hasselbach, Ph.D
In the late ’70s, Lee Strobel was a young investigative journalist writing for the Chicago Tribune. With degrees in both journalism and law, he was tenacious and persistent in pursuit of his stories: he had already won a prestigious award for his exposes. Still, in his 20s, Lee was newly married and looking forward to enjoying life with his wife Leslie when she did something that almost wrecked their marriage — she became a Christian. Lee was confused: he was an atheist who thought of religion as worthless at best. In his estimation Christians were self-righteous killjoys: he wanted nothing to do their faith. In a last-ditch effort to save his marriage, Strobel turned his considerable investigative skills to debunking Christianity: he would show his wife, and others, that Christ was a fraud. He set out to make the case against Christ.
In his desire to defeat Christianity Lee was not unlike another young man who, more than 2000 years ago, also set out to destroy Christianity. Saul of Tarsus was a pious Jew: a Pharisee. He was outraged by the cult of the crucified Jesus who, despite his public execution, some were proclaiming to be the Messiah and Son of God. Paul set out to eradicate this blasphemous sect before it attracted more adherents. On his to Damascus to arrest Christians, though, Saul was surrounded by a blinding light. A voice he didn’t recognize spoke to him: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Saul was confused.
After Jesus’ crucifixion, fear held Jesus’ disciples in its grip until, on the evening of the first day of the week, he was with them again saying “Peace be with you.” Though filled with joy they were also confused: what did his resurrection meant for them? Not knowing what to do, they did what they knew: they went fishing.
Fishing is frustrating when you’re not catching fish: that night they didn’t. Coming home empty-handed, about 100 yards from shore, they heard a stranger on shore: “Children,” he called to them, “you haven’t caught anything? Let your net out on the right side of the boat.” When they did, they brought in a big haul. “153 big fish,” John tells us. When he saw this miraculous catch, the Beloved Disciple recognized the stranger: “It’s the Lord!” he told the rest. Abundance is always a sign of God’s presence.
When they got to shore, they found Jesus doing the simplest of chores: cooking their breakfast. Their Messiah and Lord is baking fish. As Jesus came to his disciples, so he comes to us: ordinary ways and places. We will find him around the house, at work, in the garden, and amid the pots and pans of daily life. The disciples fully recognized him as they shared a meal: In his hospitality, in their friendship, in their love for each other.
Jesus was cooking on a charcoal fire. There are only two places in John’s Gospel where a “charcoal fire” appears. The first is in the courtyard of the high priest where Jesus had been taken after his arrest. Peter disavowed being Jesus’ disciple three times while warming himself at that charcoal fire.
At this second charcoal fire, Jesus gives Simon three opportunities to reaffirm his love and commitment. “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” Jesus asked. The Greek word used here for “love” is agape: selfless love. Peter answers, “Lord, you know that I love you,” but the word he uses for “love” is, philia (friendship). Peter has been humbled; he’s not going to promise more than he can produce.” “Lord, you know I’m your friend.” That seems to be enough for Jesus. “Feed my lambs,” the Lord commands. Jesus asked him again: “Simon, son of John, do you love (agape) me?” Peter responds: “Lord, you know that I love (Philia) you. Jesus says, “Tend to my sheep,” One final time Jesus asked: “Simon, son of John, do you love (Philia) me?” “Are you my friend?” Peter responds: “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love (philia) you.” “Feed my sheep,” the Lord responds.
The charcoal fire is for us, too. We have denied Jesus: by embracing values of this world; by not acknowledging our faith or by giving it only lip-service. As Jesus asked Peter, so he asks us: “Do you love me; are you even my friend?” Discipleship is friendship with Jesus, and when we are Jesus’ friends he expects us to love and feed his lambs and sheep: the lonely, lost, broken, abandoned and ignored. We are to gather them; care for them and nourish them.
Albert Schweitzer, when he went from patient to patient at his hospital in Africa, would go up to each bed and say to the patients: “Jesus of Nazareth has sent me to you to heal you.” Jesus of Nazareth has sent us, too, and there are people that only we can reach and touch and bless in his name.The little ones hunger for hope, acceptance, and belonging; for love. They hunger for understanding and help with their struggles. They hunger for the peace that only Jesus can give them. We are his ambassadors, he loves them through us!
The voice that spoke to Saul of Tarsus was the Lord, calling him to abandon his persecution and to love him. He was transformed by his encounter with the risen Lord. And Lee Strobel, who set out making the case against Christ, after a two-year investigation, concluded that it was all true: he titled the book he ultimately wrote, The Case For Christ. His encounter with Jesus also transformed him, and his family: he remains a passionate disciple and apologist. They both answered the question every disciple must: “Do you love me?” and having made that commitment, they devoted their lives to tending the Lord’s flock.
He also asks us: “Do YOU love me?” If we do then we, too, must feed his lambs and tend his sheep.