Tend My Sheep, Love the People

By Reverend Amanda

Have any of you ever tended to animals or livestock? I know there are some people in the congregation who either grew up on or currently work on a farm. Tending to farm animals is incredibly time consuming, there are no vacations but it can be an incredibly rewarding experience. When my grandfather passed away in 1985, my father inherited his farm. It was a small subsistence farm with maybe 25 to 30 head of cattle. The cows are all that I remember of this time.

I remember my father working at General Dynamics all day as a welder only to come home and have to finish the work with the cows. He had to feed them, mend the fences, and find the pregnant cows to be present when they went into labor. I helped my father feed a calf whose mother died. I loved feeding that cow with a bottle that felt incredibly large to me (I was just barely 3). Now cows are fairly easy compared to sheep or horses. My father always says give him a cow any day but he would never tend to sheep and horses have lots of health risks.

Sheep need lots of wide open land to graze throughout the day and constant attention to ensure their safety. Sheep will wander and get lost. They are easy prey for wild animals and in the ancient world they became easy prey for bandits who stole or killed them. To own sheep in the ancient world, one would either have to be a shepherd or employ a shepherd to both care for and protect their livestock. Sheep were money to these societies. Sheep meant that their family had security. Sheep was a family’s future. They were diligently watched. Shepherds would eat and sleep with their livestock for weeks at a time moving where their flock moved always keeping dibs on each sheep and keeping them together as one unit.

This is a very difficult job and takes a lot of attention and love. I find that often times I feel like I am a shepherd herding my own two children, especially keeping dibs on them in stores. These shepherds had to be dedicated to their sheep even though their sheep were not always dedicated to them, even though their sheep would wander away and get themselves in very dangerous situations that would require protection. These shepherds faced off wild animals and armed bandits with some regularity. This is why Jesus refers to himself as a shepherd throughout the scriptures and not just in our lessons from this morning. He is dedicated to his sheep, or people, with the same intensity and passion that a shepherd has for their flock. Jesus dedicated his life to tending and protecting his flock from the evils of the world around them caring for them when they were ill and warding off the deadly encounters they faced in life.

He fought off all those that would attack and bring harm to his flock. He verbally fought against the Pharisees and the harm their interpretations oh the law brought the people. He faced off the Roman Empire and sacrificed his very life for the spiritual safety of his people. He laid it all on the line for those he tended to. When he returned from the grave, he needed to ensure that while he was away that his flock, his people, his children would be well cared for because he knew how people wander; how we get lost and get ourselves into sticky faith situations. He needed someone to be dedicated and compassionate enough to spend their lives tending to his flock.

In many ways, when he came to Peter, he was doing a job interview. He was interviewing Peter to see if he would be the right man for the job. To see if he had what it would take to risk it all to watch over his precious ones. Jesus asks that we all watch out for one another. We all are being asked the same questions asked of Peter, “Jesus said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go’”(This he said to show by what death he was to glorify God.) And after this he said to him, “Follow me.” 1

Jesus has entrusted the care of the people of our world to us. He needs us, our skills, and our talents to feed his people and to tend his flock. We are not being asked to just pray and have faith, although both of these are important and good. We are not being asked to just be Christian on Sundays or holidays. We are being asked to dedicate our lives to Christ, to live into Christ’s call for us each and every day. We are being asked to become his apostles to this world, to become the ones willing to go out and work for the good of all peoples. This is our challenge as we go forth to work in the name of Jesus and may God bless the work that we do. So let us keep the words of theologian William Faber in our minds as inspiration to live each day for God’s purposes for God’s people, “Kindness has converted more sinners than zeal, eloquence, or learning”.2

1 John 21: 17-19, RSV.
2 Frederick William Faber, 19th century Theologian.