27 May 2023

Feed my sheep. . .follow me

St. Philip Neri

Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP
St. Albert the Great, Irving

Peter is distressed. And rightly so. He denied Christ three times before the crucifixion. Now, Christ is asking him to repudiate his denials and declare his love. Three times. Peter must've been squirming mightily during this interrogation! Imagine having to look the person you betrayed in the eyes and say, “Yes, I love you.” Yes, despite the fact that I abandoned you when you needed me most, yes, I love you. The guilt, the shame, the humiliation. And then add to all that what appears to be the other person's reluctance to take your admission of love at face value. So, yeah, Peter is distressed. But notice how Jesus ignores Peter's anxiety. How he just gently glides over Peter's squirming and flop sweat. Rather than rub his nose in his failure, Jesus commands Peter to take care of the little ones who follow the Way. Feed my sheep. He doesn't say, “Wallow in your misery” or “Wring your hands and wail with regret.” He says, “Feed my sheep.” Because you love me, Peter, provide for my people. Lead them. Watch over them. Keep the wolves at bay. There's no time for self-pity or regret. Follow me.

If we can confess to loving Christ, then we follow him. Not just a vague emotional attachment to his overall philosophy of life but a real following-after, a walking-behind to go where he went. We'll have our moments of retreat into the desert. Our time to enjoy a meal with friends. We'll be there when others need prayerful healing. We'll also be betrayed, abandoned, and crucified. All because we confessed our love for Christ. All because we found joy in the Spirit. We will be tempted to see the evils done to us as punishments for sin. Consequences of some long ago denial of God. Remember Peter. Remember Christ ignoring his distress and commanding him, “Feed my sheep. Follow me.” No attempt to soothe or reassure. No placating bumper sticker aphorisms. Or hand-holding. Just: “Feed my sheep. Follow me.” When Peter followed Christ to his own Cross in Rome, did he recall his denials in the Garden, or his confessions of love on the shore of Tiberias' sea? Well, he died a martyr's death for love. So, he died a martyr in joy.

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