A sales rep had been struggling to meet the sales projections in his appointed region, so the manager called him in for a meeting. After a lengthy discussion the manager and the rep stood looking at a map on which colored pins indicated the company representative in each area. The manager finally said, “I’m not going to fire you, Wilson, but I’m loosening your pin a bit just to emphasize the insecurity of your situation.”
In Chapter 10 of John’s Gospel, Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd.”
We also know that, on the night before he was crucified, Peter denied Jesus three times. In a way, he acted like the hired hand. The wolf came, there was trouble, and he spiritually fled from Jesus out of fear for his own life. We can’t criticize Peter for his actions, because that could have just as easily been anyone of us in a similar situation. But for Peter, by today’s standards, he would have had is pin pulled out of the map and ground to dust. Yet Jesus responded in a different way.
Today, we have Peter and Jesus walking alone. Peter denied him three times and we know that Jesus is now restoring him by asking him three times, “Do you love me?” Peter responds, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you,” “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you,” and finally, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus doesn’t say, “OK. Good answer.” Instead, Jesus says, “Feed my lambs,” “Tend my sheep,” and finally, “Feed my sheep.”
Jesus is the Good Shepherd and by today’s standards, Peter should have been fired, but instead Jesus makes Peter a shepherd. Jesus is the Good Shepherd, but he is asking Peter to now share in this ministry of caring for God’s people, and he concludes by saying to Peter, “Follow me.” Do what I have been doing and don’t be afraid any longer.
What is Peter’s reward for obedience? Again, from the world’s perspective, it is a real winner: “‘Very truly… when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.’ (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.)” Jesus is saying, “Be a shepherd of God’s people, follow me, and your reward will be that you shall die a most violent death.” Tradition holds that Peter was crucified upside down in Rome. And to that we all say, “Sign me up!” However, in saying to Peter, “Follow me,” Jesus is also saying, follow me in caring for the children of God, but also follow me through death, for death has been conquered once and for all. Follow me, for there is nothing to fear.” — “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that can do nothing more.” (Luke 12:4)
The one that denied and should have been fired has been given a roll in the ministry and eternal life. That was then, this is now, but the task and reward are the same. Jesus says to each of us, “Feed my sheep. Follow me.” Without hesitation or fear, we are called to be like Peter. Care for the children of God and follow Jesus. We have been commissioned. Fear not.