Sheep Farming

As I was reading the final verses of the gospel according to John, I was thinking about how Peter’s reinstatement into the ministry applied to me. Again, I’ve read John multiple times, so I asked the Lord to yet again reveal to me a fresh perspective.

Now, this is going to be my seventh school year of teaching. I was only a class advisor in my first year, and then again last year. I’m going to be an advisor once more this year. I had my reasons for this.

I confess that for the longest time I didn’t want the job. I thought I didn’t have the people skills needed. I thought I didn’t have the creativity and resources to be a good advisor. At the same time I had a comfort zone to maintain and annoying parents to avoid. I didn’t want the job.

Now on to the Scripture:

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you truly love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “feed my lambs.”

(John 21:15)

This repeats twice more, with Jesus slightly changing the wording of his questions: The first is “Do you truly love me more than these,” meaning there is a certain element of relativity in the question: Jesus was asking if compared to “these,” Peter loved him more.

Many Bible commentaries give suggestions as to what “these” were; the Scripture is not explicit. Scholars speculate that Jesus might have been referring to Peter’s career as a fisherman, or the good breakfast he was eating, or the other 10 Apostles, or his own sin and guilt. I think it could have been any or all of the above. It’s a simpler question than it sounds: “Do you love me more than your own ideas, goals, comfort, or relationships?” In the Greek, Jesus uses the word agapao, which we might know is related to agape, the unconditional, ultimate love that Jesus preaches.

A much more sober Peter replies in the affirmative, and Jesus commands him to feed his lambs. Curiously, Peter only replies with phileo–the brotherly sense of love.

The second time, Jesus asks: ” Do you truly love me?” (NIV). Jesus once again uses agapao. In this case, Peter again replies with phileo, saying he does, and Jesus once more commands him to take care of his sheep.

Finally, Jesus asks: ‘Do you love me?’ (NIV). The original punch of this simple question is dampened by the clumsiness of English in handling the complexity of the ancient concepts of love, because this time, Jesus uses the same word that Peter had been using: phileo. This is probably why Peter was hurt. My understanding of the passage is something like this:

Jesus: Peter, do you love me more than anything else?

Peter: I love you–as a brother.

Jesus: That’s okay. Continue my work.

Jesus: Peter, do you really love me?

Peter: I love you as a brother.

Jesus: No problem. Continue my work .

Jesus: Do you love me as a brother?

Peter, emotionally troubled: Lord, you know I do. You know I’m messed up right now about what I did.

Jesus: I know, and it’s fine; Continue my ministry. I know someday you will lay down your life for it.

I think Jesus was allowing Peter to gradually come to grips with his own spiritual state, slowly helping him realize just where he was, and yet at the same time affirming him. Jesus wasn’t being passive-aggressive here; He was gently leading Peter out of a state of denial. For each time that Peter had denied Jesus in front of others, Jesus affirmed him in front of others.

This really spoke to me. I’m not a great Christian. I’m selfish in many ways. I do a lot of stupid things despite knowing better, yet the Lord is willing to meet me where I am and he gave me this great responsibility as an advisor.

Come SY 2010-2011, my first year in GCF-ICS. (Wow, it’s been a year already.) I was assigned to become an advisor, and of course I couldn’t refuse. I knew this time that I had to grow beyond it. I accepted.

I had to relearn how to deal with parents, how to care about students beyond academics, how to establish real, meaningful relationships. I’m very thankful that my kids put up with me as long as they did. I think they’re used to advisors who are much more proactive and intentional. It seems it’s only now that I’m getting back into the groove of being an advisor.

This year, I have a bigger class, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to have to slack off even more. It’s not going to be easy—just ask any person who’s serious in their ministry. After all, despite all of the tender and romanticized pictures of sheep farming (“It’s like having a stuffed toy, except it’s alive!), it’s not going to be easy. I know it won’t be,but this is how God assures me: I know He loves me. I know I love Him. I admit I’m messed up, and He knows—but I know He’s going to give me the strength to pull this off. I am ready to lay down my life for His sheep.

I look forward to meeting you, II-Ephesians.

~ by J. R. R. Flores on May 21, 2011.

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