At the end of the Gospel of John, Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?” Each time Peter responds, “Yes, Lord” and each time Jesus repeats either “feed my sheep” or “feed my lambs.” We read this as an act of contrition for Peter’s three-fold denial the night of Jesus’ arrest. But the command given to Peter pushes it in another direction. In the Bible, anything repeated three times is of extreme importance. The triple confession, but also the triple command, reaches past Peter and should be heard by all who claim to love Jesus.
I am writing this article during the week I leave for the General Assembly in Columbus, OH. I read a story from Columbus, GA about the new rules limiting the feeding of the homeless in a public park cared for by the Public Utilities Department. There are other cities around the country that have made it illegal to feed people in public spaces. It is a rapidly growing trend.
I appreciate the concerns about lawsuits and the presence of people who may be unstable. I understand that it takes away from the attractiveness of the spaces for other citizens. I can see why people find the sight and smell of hundreds of street people to be off putting.
But we are already very good at seeing through those we choose not to notice. I am reluctant to offer assistance to a person at the entrance or exit of the highway. I have seen the cardboard sign, “Will Work for Food”. I know that some of these people are not truly in need, but merely seeking tax free cash.
Jesus also told His followers that there would always be poor people. We cannot overcome that which has no end. Why even try? The hungry and the needy are too many.
But Jesus didn’t tell Peter to feed all of the sheep and all of the lambs. Peter couldn’t be everywhere. He could only be in one place at a time. Maybe the command is to feed the sheep and lambs where he was at the given time. It wasn’t a command to end all hunger, but to provide a meal for the sheep and the lambs, more along the idea of a large picnic, or like the feeding of the 5,000.
The law says don’t feed the hungry in public, unless you are a licensed food establishment, like a restaurant with an outdoor patio seating area. But what if I invite friends to a picnic and what if we have enough food with us to invite “new” friends to share in our picnic. Would that be illegal? Should I care if it might be?
If Jesus asked each of us, “DO you love me?” Would we have the courage to answer knowing that he will tell us to feed His sheep? How will you answer?