“Feed my sheep.”
It’s 3 and a bit years since Jesus said these words to me. If you follow these writings of mine, you may notice that I mention these words or point toward them on a regular basis. And if ever I get a little distracted in what I do, these words are the plumbline that I can come back to. They are both simple and profound, filled with meaning and purpose.
Between January and March of 2016, and using these words, Jesus made it clear to me what he was asking of me. For some time before that, Christ in me had been revealed as the Bread of Life. So when he said these words, there was a real clarity and understanding.
It was as if Jesus answered the questions I might have had.
Jesus: “Feed my sheep.”
Me: “What do I feed them with?”
Jesus: “With me.”
The people who Father has drawn and is drawing to us are those who first and foremost need a friend. I have learnt so much about being a friend as Jesus wants to be a friend. He is much more capable of being the friend that others need than I am in my own strength.
For whatever reason, these people are isolated and alone. Some have experienced trauma, some abuse (and may still be experiencing it), be it emotional, verbal, physical, or some other type of abuse. Some have been hurt and let down by others. They are all people who need to be fed what they cannot find in the world around them.
It is Jesus himself.
For those in turmoil, anxious and afraid, he is Peace. For those who have been rejected and hurt by people they expected to be loved by, he is unconditional Love. For those who feel as though there is nothing worth living for, he is Life.
That is the intention. Intentional incarnation as I like to put it.
There were some other words of Jesus that expanded my understanding of those 3 words around the same time.
“And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”
And this brings us to something that my Dad has been talking about for a while now.
Jesus tells a story to illustrate who he is and the relationship he has with each of us. This story can be found in the bible in Luke 15:3-7. He is revealed as the shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine other sheep to go after the one that is lost.
You will know that “the one” is very important to me. Sitting with the one who others won’t sit with. Meeting and befriending the one who is alone. Helping the one who feels lost and alone. Whether it’s the story of the woman at the well, Jesus meeting the one, or the lost sheep, Jesus going after the one, that is what Jesus is doing. And showing us that the ones lead to other ones who also need him.
But if there’s nothing else to take from this, please take this.
Growing up as a Christian, I think there was a general thought that, thankfully, Jesus has shattered for me now. Perhaps this thought or mindset still exists in Christian circles today? This thought was that the sheep are those who are part of the church. They are the “saved” ones. And those who aren’t part of the church, well, they’re the sinners. We are the sheep, they are the sinners.
I am thankful that as a follower of Jesus, he has done away with that thought for me. When he said to me “Feed my sheep,” and then proceeded to show me what he meant when he said “I have other sheep who are not of this fold,” I realised in a new way that he has sheep who don’t go to church, who might not be living the life that I or others think they should. It doesn’t change anything of how Jesus sees them, or how I should see them. They are his sheep too.
There is no separation. No “us and them.” The most important word in the title given to the story that Jesus told is “sheep.” That the one is lost is secondary. How you and I view the person in front of us is the major issue. I can view the person in front of me as a sinner needing to be saved. That can make me think of myself more highly than them. It’s very easy for that to happen I think!
Or I can see the person as someone just like me. I can see this person as someone who already belongs to Jesus. As Jesus makes it clear, there might be ninety-nine sheep who are together, but there is one missing, a lost sheep. And that one is as important to the shepherd as the ninety-nine. Perhaps more so? After all, the shepherd is willing to leave the ninety-nine to go after the one.
I can choose to look down upon someone rather than sit with them. This is something I learnt very early on with my friend Philip when we sat on the bench. Not to stand and look down on him as people often did, but to sit with him where he was at. I remember a very clear thought coming to mind telling me to sit with him. And so from that moment I always sat down with him. I simply had to see him as someone who already belonged to Jesus regardless of his circumstances. Someone who had just got a bit lost. Someone who was the same as me. Two sheeps sat together! To see ourselves as equal with others means we won’t patronise them, put them down, or push ourselves up at their expense.
There may be arguments that these people don’t go to church or they haven’t prayed “the sinners prayer.” That they’re not “saved,” whatever that really means.
Those arguments I don’t listen to now. I don’t know much more than this. Jesus showed me that he has sheep who aren’t of the fold that I was comfortable in. And he says that there are sheep who are lost, and they may not be with the ninety-nine, but that doesn’t make them any less a sheep belonging to the shepherd.
And he says that he is willing to go from the ninety-nine to find the one, and to carry them home.
And he said I had better be ready to do the same!
Let me encourage you to see people just as Jesus sees them. Maybe they are sheep outside the fold of where you are currently comfortably sat? Maybe they are lost? But open your heart to see the person in front of you as Jesus sees them.
I imagine Jesus saying,
“This is one of my sheep. They belong to me. Carry them home.”
Eat the Living Bread, drink the Living Water.