Peter is a central figure in all four Gospels. While the Gospel of Matthew sets Peter at the very center of apostolic authority, John places his authority beside the beloved disciple who may be John himself, the writer of the Gospel.
In both Gospels the account of Peter’s betrayal is given with some differing details. Only in John do we have a later scene at breakfast in Galilee that recalls the denial with a command of the Lord. “Feed my sheep.” Three times Peter denies Jesus; three times Jesus asks Peter, “. . . do you love me?” Peter responds, “Yes.” Then, the Lord, commands him to “Feed my sheep,” (John 21)
What does the command mean? It is in John 10 that Jesus gives a discourse on the shepherd and the sheep. He is the shepherd; His disciples are sheep. The Lord says that the sheep follow the shepherd. Peter would feed the sheep by instructing them to follow Jesus. By following Jesus the sheep receive life. Jesus, and the would-be pastor (Latin for shepherd) in the community of faith, lead the sheep in the way that gives life.
There is to be one shepherd, Jesus Christ, and one flock. To feed the sheep is to keep them on the path to eternal life. The point is made when at the end of Jesus’ questioning of Peter at breakfast in Galilee, He again instructs Peter to follow him.
In the First Letter of John, a work in the Johannine tradition, the apostle warns against antichrists who attempt to infect the community with false doctrine. Those who feed the sheep must teach what is true and avoid heresy, especially false teachings about the Trinity and Jesus Christ.
In our witness to others we are to feed the sheep, a responsibility of pastors and laity. Pastors have special responsibilities regarding Word and Sacrament. They preach the Word and administer the Sacraments on behalf of the Church. Laity assist in this ministry including taking the Word to others. We are to respond faithfully to Christ’s command.
At the beginning of the Gospel, Andrew invites his brother, Peter, to “Come and see,” Jesus. In John 12 some people who had come up for the Passover came to Philip and asked, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Two metaphors then describe what Christians are to do. They are to show Jesus to those who seek him and feed them when they are members of the flock. In both cases the central theme is following Jesus. We must conduct ourselves in a way that brings people to Christ and feeds them along the way. We are to share the Gospel with “gentleness and respect,” as Peter writes in his first letter.
Michael G. Tavella
December 14, 2020
Saint John of the Cross