Feeding the Lambs

Sunday, April 14
Third Sunday of Easter

Focus Theme
Feeding the Lambs

Weekly Prayer
God of victory over death, your Son revealed himself again and again, and convinced his followers of his glorious resurrection. Grant that we may know his risen presence, in love obediently feed his sheep, and care for the lambs of his flock, until we join the hosts of heaven in worshipping you and praising him who is worthy of blessing and honor, glory and power, for ever and ever. Amen. 
Focus Scripture
John 21:1-19

After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.

When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He 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.” (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”

All Readings for this Sunday
Acts 9:1-6, (7-20)
Psalm 30
Revelation 5:11-14
John 21:1-19

Focus Questions

1. How is God made known in your life?

2. How closely do you feel connected to the source of your sustenance?
3. How have you experienced God through Creation?

4. Why do you think Jesus repeated his command three times?

5. How does this reading inspire you to greater reverence for God’s handiwork in Creation?

Reflection by Professor Laurel Koepf Taylor
Eden Theological Seminary

How is God made known in your life? Throughout both testaments, God communicates in a variety of ways. We know that the Bible tells us of revelation through dreams and visions, through prophets and sacred texts. Yet all too often we forget that the Bible also attests to the natural world as a source of divine encounter. The Psalms describe creation’s active participation in divine praise. The book of Deuteronomy calls elements of nature as witnesses in the covenant between God and humankind in 30:19-20. The prophets, particularly the book of Joel, describe the land’s role in expressing divine pleasure with its inhabitants as well as displeasure when its inhabitants do not respect God and one another. In this way, God’s creation is one of the most tangible ways in which humanity, both in the world of the Bible and today, can experience the divine.

In reading these texts, we should remember the ancient context out of which our sacred texts arise. The ancient agricultural economy necessitated ongoing interaction with plants and animals for survival. The precarious climate of the Levant (modern day Israel/Palestine) made weather patterns highly significant events for food cultivation. The necessity of human and animal labor, as well as the thriving of plant life, made fertility and reproduction urgent. Each of these elements of creation contributes still to human thriving, but often remains beyond our awareness for those with careers outside of agriculture. In the biblical world, however, the connection between God’s creation and sustenance is visceral. It is a daily interaction with God and with the divine role in creating and sustaining life. Within the world of the Bible, the Creator communicates through creation. 

Seeing God through creation

When we hold the ongoing theme of revelation through creation in our awareness as we read, it is easier to note its presence where it is less obvious, as in today’s Gospel lesson from the book of John. In this narrative, we see the familiar post-resurrection theme in which the disciples do not recognize Jesus. Indeed, the resurrection narrative in the previous chapter of John’s Gospel features Mary Magdalene’s encounter with the risen Christ, in which she believes him to be a gardener until he speaks to her. Looking beyond its immediate literary context, John 21:1-19 bears striking similarities to the Road to Emmaus narrative in Luke 24:13-35. Each features a small gathering of disciples and takes place soon after the resurrection event within the narrative. Each text also ends with Jesus and the disciples sharing a meal.  These disciples encounter but do not recognize Jesus until he has performed a particular action, but the actions he performs so as to reveal his identity differ in the two narratives, highlighting nuances in the meanings of the two texts. Whereas Jesus’ breaking and blessing bread opens the disciples’ eyes in the Lukan post-resurrection encounter, Jesus’ relationship with and resultant knowledge of the behavior of fish makes his identity known to his disciples in the Johannine narrative. When he tells the disciples to cast their net on the right side in 21:6, they do not yet know who he is. His own words and actions do not reveal his identity as the breaking and blessing of bread did in Luke 24. Rather, the fish, by filling the net in uncanny numbers, reveal Christ’s presence to the disciples. Only then do they recognize him. Only after they have recognized him does he break bread with them.

John’s Gospel, widely recognized to be the latest of the four, responds to the Synoptics in its telling of events. It highlights the fish and their action rather than Jesus’ act of blessing and breaking bread. Knowing the theology of the Gospel of John, this is certainly not a valuing of fish over Christ, but is instead a narrative emphasis upon creation and Jesus’ close relationship to it as an identifying characteristic. John’s version of the post-resurrection encounter in which the disciples do not recognize Jesus also repurposes the miraculous catch of fish that launches his ministry in Luke 5:1-11. The author of the Gospel makes the miraculous catch a feature of a resurrection appearance rather than a call for disciples to follow the embodied Christ. In doing so, the relationship between Jesus and the natural world becomes the way in which disciples past and present recognize the resurrected Christ. It communicates that Christ is in relationship with creation, that the Jesus who walked and worked many years ago, but who is alive and acting today is made known through the natural world that surrounds us all.

Caring for the most vulnerable of the earth

The relationship between Jesus and nature that we see exhibited in John 21 highlights the significance of Jesus’ command in verses 15-17 to “feed my lambs.” It is important enough to ask three times, “Do you love me,” and upon receiving an affirmative response insist upon care for those Christ cares for. They are “lambs,” animals who are both a part of and as vulnerable as creation itself. We know that many people among us are vulnerable, but the natural metaphor, immediately following the revelation of the resurrected Christ through nature, serves as a reminder that all creation is vulnerable and in need of our care.  John’s Jesus goes on to remind the disciples that those who are powerful now will not always be so, “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.” The universal experience of vulnerability at one time or another motivates our care for others when we are in the position to do so, and for creation at all times.

It is no wonder then that we know Jesus as the Lamb. It is no wonder that the book of Revelation, which comes to us from the same Johannine community, describes “every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea” (v. 13) singing to the Lamb as a powerful affirmation. These texts communicate that Jesus continues the longstanding biblical tradition of a close divine relationship with creation. They act as powerful reminders that we are but one element of God’s created world, and as invitations to enter into relationship with God and with the resurrected Christ through our care for the natural world. If we wish to serve God, we must feed the lambs among us. We must serve one another. Jesus’ closeness to creation reminds us that “one another” cannot be limited to humankind. If we are to follow in Christ’s example, we too must be in relationship with “every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea.”

Our guest writer this week for Mission 4/1 Earth

The Rev. Dr. Laurel Koepf Taylor is Assistant Professor of Old Testament at Eden Theological Seminary and an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. She received both her M.Div. and PhD from Union Theological Seminary in New York.  Dr. Koepf Taylor’s research focuses on the necessity of children for survival in the biblical world, as well as in the contemporary congregation. Her book on this topic, Give me Children or I Shall Die: Children and Survival in Biblical Literature, is forthcoming this fall from Fortress Press.

For further reflection

Wendell Berry, 21st century
“Healing is impossible in loneliness; it is the opposite of loneliness. Conviviality is healing. To be healed we must come with all the other creatures to the feast of Creation.”
“To live, we must daily break the body and shed the blood of Creation. When we do this knowingly, lovingly, skillfully, reverently, it is a sacrament. When we do it ignorantly, greedily, clumsily, destructively, it is a desecration. In such desecration we condemn ourselves to spiritual and moral loneliness, and others to want.”

Henry David Thoreau, 19th century
“This curious world we inhabit is more wonderful than convenient; more beautiful than it is useful; it is more to be admired and enjoyed than used.”

Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, 19th century
“Man, do not pride yourself on your superiority to the animals, for they are without sin, while you, with all your greatness, you defile the earth wherever you appear and leave an ignoble trail behind you–and that is true, alas, for almost every one of us!”

Ann Voskamp, 21st century
“Our fall was, has always been, and always will be, that we aren’t satisfied in God and what [God] gives. We hunger for something more, something other.”

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