The Good Shepherd

I try not to inflict my travel reminiscences on you too much, but…  I had a great time in New Zealand!  It is a beautiful country and I’ve loved visiting our son there and getting to know his new home.

New Zealand is famous for many things, most recently as the vacation destination for those who love the films on the “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit,” all six of which were filmed there.  It has also long been noted for its sheep ranching.  Perhaps you have heard it said that New Zealand has more sheep than people.  That has been true for ages, though it may not be quite accurate today.

So here’s the connection at work in my mind.  Our scriptures were written in a time and a culture that depended heavily on sheep for food, clothing, and religious practices.  King David was a shepherd, first literally, then metaphorically.  Psalm 23 (“The Lord is my shepherd”) is one of the very first scripture passages most of us learned.  Jesus is the “Good Shepherd” who lays down his life for his sheep.

Among the many stories in the four gospels about what happens after the resurrection is an account of Jesus meeting the disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee where they have gone back to fishing.  You’ll find the story in John chapter 21.  The story culminates in a dialog between Jesus and Peter.  During Jesus’ trial, Peter had three times denied know Jesus or having any association with him.  Now Jesus three times asks Peter if he loves him.  Peter tries to assure Jesus that yes, he does love him.  This is a painful exchange, but seems intended by Jesus to open Peter’s wounded heart and heal it with forgiveness and grace.  Three times Peter answers Jesus, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”  And each time Jesus reaffirms Peter by commissioning him to “feed my lambs,” “tend my sheep,” and “feed my sheep.”

There is so much grace in this encounter: tenderness, forgiveness, healing, trust, restoration, and great love.  I can only imagine how overwhelmed Peter was with gratitude and love in return.  I also believe that this encounter was meant as a paradigm for our relationship with Christ.  Our intentions may be great, but so also may be our failures.  Yet I am convinced that Jesus never gives up on us, that he always approaches us with this same honest, tender question: “Do you love me?”  And to the extent that we answer humbly, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you,” then we may also experience again the depth and power of his grace, healing, and restoration.

This was the Easter story for Peter.  It is our Easter story as well.  It is grace and it is a commissioning:  Feed my lambs… tend my sheep…feed my sheep.”

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