Recently I have been pondering the account recorded in book of John verses 15-19, where Peter is faced with the question, "Lovest thou Me more than these?".
Just the night before, Peter had been out in the deep, faithfully casting his net. Fishing was his trade. He was well acquainted with the ins-and-outs of such a life and had become rather proficient at it. In fact, he was very much of a leader in this endeavor and could comfortably provide for his own by doing such. But this one night, success was just not his...until the Lord told him to cast the net on the right side of the boat. When he followed the Lord's instructions, the reaping was more than he could take in! No doubt he was quite satisfied with the outcome.
As he sat down to enjoy the blessings of the Lord's provision, warming himself with the other disciples near the glowing fire and relishing the rewards of hard labour, he must have thought, "This is the life! I like fishing. I know how to fish. I feel accomplished when my fishing is rewarded. And of course, everyone in town knows me as the fisherman. I can even obey Jesus and be a fisherman! After all, He even helped me do it better and rewarded my efforts! Quitting would be ridiculous."
Suddenly his thoughts come to an abrupt stop as he realizes that Jesus is speaking to him, "Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me more than these?"
He immediately thinks, "Why, yes! I would never love anything more than Jesus. Isn't He the one who made my business a success anyway?" So he responds confidently, "Yea, Lord; Thou knows that I love thee."
Then the Lord says something that takes Peter completely off-guard, "Feed my lambs."
WHAT?! Become a shepherd?? That's a completely different task than fishing! And even then, feed lambs? They are helpless, scrawny, little bundles of wool that are utterly dependent on external aid and are hardly worth anything except to be sacrificed. Besides, everyone knows that shepherds are some of the lowest of "businessmen"--if you could even call them businessmen. A shepherd hardly gets any recognition, much less applause. Peter gazed back into the glowing firelight, his mind racing. The taste of fish was still fresh.
But Jesus asks again, "Lovest thou Me more than these?"
A little disturbed, Peter replies, "Yea, Lord; Thou knows that I love Thee."
Jesus says something next that catches Peter again, but contains a slightly different connotation, "Feed My sheep."
Now sheep are bigger than cute little lambs. They are stubborn, unintelligent, always getting into trouble, or--worse yet--getting lost. They must be constantly watched and guided lest they eat something that would harm them, or walk into a trap. Other predators are unceasingly on the prowl for them, and it does not help that they have difficulty following close to their shepherd and not straying. They are easily swayed by peer-pressure, which, more often than not, leads to certain destruction and are all to easily frightened. And, He had also said, "Feed MY sheep." That meant the product wasn't even his; it was Someone else's! Peter recalled the sheer thrill of pulling up an overflowing net.
Jesus asks the third and final time, "Lovest thou Me more than these?"
The Bible says that Peter was grieved that He would ask him again; it struck the innermost core of his heart. Humbly, he answered, "Lord, Thou knows all things [my doubts, my fears, my passions, my longings, my failings, my desires...]; Thou knowest that I love Thee."
Then the Lord says the words once more, with a deeper meaning, "Feed My sheep."
He went on to explain that this would include giving up his own life in a way that was uncomfortable. It would mean that he would not be favored in the eyes of society. He would come to a place where he would not even be able to care for his own self, and would lay down his own life. Then Jesus said two words that rang loud and clear in the hearts of all who heard them, "Follow Me."
I have heard many applications of this passage, but may I apply it, for now, to those of you who bear the name "mother" or are facing the decision of whether or not that is a title you desire to claim?
There is much ado for women to go "out there" and fish their living for themselves. It is encouraged, recognized, applauded, and advertised as the way to success. It is also greatly down-looked and despised if you do not "make something of yourself" in the rat-race for popularity and prestigious accomplishment. No doubt when Christian principles are applied in the right way, it often brings better success to any business. And the satisfaction of having your needs and even desires provided is a thrill in itself.
But can you hear the voice of Christ gently asking, "Lovest thou Me more than these--money, social esteem, independence, popularity, and the fulfillment of 'out there'?" Do you hear Him calling, "Feed My lambs. Feed my sheep."?
It is true, shepherding is very different from fishing. It requires much more.
Fishing takes patience. Shepherding takes patient consistency.
Fishing takes bate. Shepherding takes care in nurturing.
Fishing takes knowing the kind of fish and what will lure it. Shepherding takes understanding the heart of each sheep and what will help it.
Fishing--you can chat with your friends and the fish could care less; after all, they're just after the bate. Shepherding--"My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me." (John 10:27)
Fishing is on occasion, preferably in the good whether. Shepherding is 24/7.
Fishing requires braving the waves to cast a net into the deep. Shepherding requires battling predators, enduring the stormy night, going out alone to recover a wayward lamb...yes, that one matters!
Fishing takes catching a fish so you can live. Shepherding takes giving of your life for your sheep.
Fishing is about cooking up fried fish fillets. Shepherding is about preparing a sacrifice--a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1).
The question echoes to each of us, "Lovest thou Me more than these?" And the call stands, "Feed My sheep."
Do not be discouraged nor overwhelmed, for He does not leave us to figure out how to feed and guide His sheep on our own.... He says, "Follow Me."