Years ago I had a personal encounter with a passage from Scripture unlike any I’d had before. I realize that sounds dramatic. All I can say is, it’s the truth. In addition, it has a message for us in our current socially-isolated, safely-distanced world.

In 1990 I was working at a terrific mission agency which I had been with for 14 years at that point. As great as the agency was, as gifted and admirable as my co-workers were, I was losing steam.

Over time I had reached a point of disenchantment with the way life was going for me and my family. The glamour of raising support and being on a fairly limited budget was starting to wear thin. I longed to provide better for my family, to be able get a normal job and be a typical suburban American worker/provider. I was a slowly losing a sense of purpose and calling. 

At the same time, Beryl and I were leading a couples small group in our church and one evening listened to a cassette tape message by a local church pastor. He focused on John 21:15-17:

“When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.

As we listened to the tape, the pastor repeated the words, 

“Peter do you love me? Feed my lambs.” 
“Peter do you truly love me? Then take care of my sheep…”

The verses oddly started to sound more like, 

“Craig, do you love me? Then feed my sheep.” 

My first response, “Yeah, well I’m kind of tired of that, Lord. I plan to move on.”

Then the second time, 

“Craig, do you truly love me?’ 
“Well yes, Lord, you know I do.”
“Take care of my sheep. Some are sitting right in front of you, by the way.”

As this increasingly personal and piercing message continued, I looked at Beryl and she at me. The expressions on our faces were asking, “Is this hitting you the way it’s hitting me?!”

One more time the question came, “Craig, I’ll ask you again, do you love me?” Silence on my part, just a lump in my throat. The inaudible but clear response I heard from him was, “If so, then be the shepherd I made you to be.”

By the time the message was over, Beryl and I had tears in our eyes, which we vainly attempted to wipe away. I turned to the group and awkwardly asked, “Well, what did you think of that?”

Their replies were along the lines of, 

“It was pretty good.” 
“I thought it was OK.”
“Yeah, we should take care of others.”

I was hardly able to speak. I finally said, “This message was for me.” God made me to be a shepherd, a pastor, and there are times I get very tired of it. But Jesus wasn’t talking to Peter tonight. And the pastor wasn’t talking to me tonight. Jesus was talking to me.”

That night I committed to remaining at the mission, and accepting God’s call on me to shepherd sheep. That remains one of the most personal messages I’ve heard from a passage of Scripture. 

But what does this have to do with the rest of us, and our new coronavirus reality? 

I believe those words are Jesus’ message for all of us. No, not “If you love me go become a missionary or a pastor.” No, that was just the message for me. The core message for all of us is, “If you love me, then take care of those I love. That’s everyone you see.”

To personalize it, 

“Tom, if you love me, then love other people. Because I do.” 
“Becky, if you truly love me then take care of others; they are like sheep to me.” 
“Paul, if you truly love me, then love the people I love. By the way, that’s everyone.”

What does the world see from the Church right now? What does the world see from me? From you? Is it attention, compassion, patience, love? Or is it impatience, distance, hoarding and disregard?

Jesus says to us, “If in fact you truly love me, take care of my sheep.” We might incorrectly respond, “Wait, he says love his sheep. That’s just Christians. All I need to do is like other Christians; I can ignore the rest.”

No, I don’t really think that was Jesus’ point at all— discriminating against the lost. The greater theme of the whole New Testament, and in fact all of Scripture, is God’s undying love for those who are lost. Jesus went far out of his way to be around and to pursue those who are lost, wandering, dejected or wounded. We should too.

I’m reminded of a parable Jesus told in Matthew 25:34-40. The King says to the righteous ones:

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

They, not understanding the King’s perspective at all, respond with admirable honesty, 

“Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?”

They are clearly concluding, “He’s thinking of the wrong people. When did we feed, clothe or visit him? Never.”

The King’s reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

That’s where Jesus’ parable ends, but I can imagine had it really happened, some hearing the King would have thought, 

“Oh. We had no idea that we were serving you then.”
His reply, “You were. So, now you know.”

Who needs our attention and love right now?

  • Our family that’s for sure. They are frightened and need a voice of reassurance
  • Our neighbor. A widow lives across the street from Beryl and me. Does she know we care about her? Have we made that clear?
  • Is there a single man or woman living near you? I wonder if they might feel desperately forgotten, alone and afraid.
  • Is any neighbor elderly or ill? 
  • Is there someone hungry, alone, sick, even a stranger who needs us to love them?

Like the King in the parable Jesus might say to us, “You cared for me when I was afraid, when I was alone, when I was hungry.” And, like those in Jesus’ story, we might ask the Lord, “When did I ever see you afraid, hungry and alone?”

Jesus’ message is: “I tell you the truth, whatever you do for the least of these you do for me…Do you truly love me? Take care of my sheep.”

Do you love the Lord? Then love others. Now more than ever. Whatever we do for them, we do for him.