Words Matter

Words matter.  Several years ago, I received a call that my son had cut off his finger.  It was the day before Thanksgiving, and I took off from the office on the 70 mile commute to get to him.  I called my husband on the way who was closer than I was.  He got there quicker than me, and called me back letting me know that it was a cut that would only require a few stitches.  The worry immediately turned to frustration, and all I could say to the person who reported the cut off finger was “words matter”!  After all was said and done, the boy did get a few stitches, a throbbing finger and a valuable lesson about playing with knives.  Every Thanksgiving since then, our family has recounted that Thanksgiving that the finger was lost, and then found again.  Gotta love family traditions born out of misfortune!

Today’s scripture stumped me a bit in an area.  It seems like Jesus has gotten a skip in His record, and keeps repeating Himself.

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.”

John 21:15-17

So, either Jesus thought that Peter was slow on the uptake, or there is a deeper meaning to to the instructions.  In the original Greek language, the meaning would have been more like this:

“Feed my lambs.” v15 – The Greek word for “pasture” is in the present tense, denoting a continual action of tending, feeding and caring for.1

“Take care of my sheep.” v16 – In this exchange, Jesus was emphasizing tending the sheep in a supervisory capacity.1

“Feed my sheep.” v17 – Here Jesus combines the different Greek words to make clear the job of the shepherd of the flock of God. They are to tend, care for, and provide spiritual food for God’s people, from the youngest lambs to the full-grown sheep, in continual action to nourish and care for their souls, bringing them into the fullness of spiritual maturity.1

See?  Words do matter.  I think that many times we can look at this scripture in the church and only see the need of feeding and clothing the poor.  Yes, that is a vital part of the duties laid out for Peter, and in turn all followers who have come since.  But it’s more than that.  Tending to someone is more personal … more intimate … more exposed.  It’s about engaging in people’s lives in a way that they know they are supported.  The needs of a single mother or caretaker of the elderly are just a vital as the those who need shelter and nourishment.  The needs are different, but the impact on their individual lives can lead to the same place – isolation and hopelessness.

Jesus goes on to instruct on having a supervisory role over the sheep.  That doesn’t mean that you need to be a Pastor or Board Member in the church to assume responsibility.  Shepherds would spend time looking around for any sign of predators around the sheep.  They looked for those sheep that showed the slightest sign of sickness, so they could care for them quickly to not lose even one.  They also understood how quickly a threat of a predator or sickness could affect the entire flock, so they were vigilant.

The last instruction is about not letting anyone slip through the cracks.  I can honestly say that I have been guilty of having the attitude, “The VBS bible story room doesn’t fall under Marriage Ministry, so it’s not my area.  Send them to me when they get married.”.  I can tell you that when those words came out of my mouth it was like I got a Holy Spirit smack down in the middle of the foyer in church.  Needless to say, for the week of VBS I told bible stories to gobs of kids who were hungry to hear the Word.  Each night I gave an invitation to say the sinners prayer, and each night there were tons of kids that responded.  The first night, after the first class, I sobbed in repentance for not recognizing that each and every person is within the scope of who I am to share the love of Christ with.

Yes, we may be more talented in certain areas, or anointed in others, but there is not one person who is to be overlooked because they don’t align with the demographic of “our” ministry.  Refer them to someone who is more suited to meet their needs, but do a follow up, make sure that they are getting what they need.  Send a text of encouragement, or better yet, actually send them a card.  If you’re willing to really live on the edge, you could even call or ask them to visit over a cup of coffee.  We all have a circle of influence, for arguments sake, let’s just call the people in that circle your flock.

1 Liberty University Online

Read Day 17 Devotion by Scott

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