When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But 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.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”
New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. USCCB approved (http://www.usccb.org/bible/approved-translations
“Feed my sheep” is what Jesus asks of Peter not once but thrice, and ever since then “feeding” has been an essential dimension of pastoral and apostolic service. What should motivate such feeding? We may feed from a surplus, or as a duty and obligation, or because feeding is such an obviously efficacious work of mercy. Jesus asks us to feed on and out of love.
At the end of the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius offers us the Contemplation to Attain Divine Love with two preliminary considerations: 1) that love shows itself in deeds more than words and 2) that love consists in a mutual sharing of goods. Feed my sheep, then, becomes an expression of love. Feed my sheep, then again, becomes a mutual sharing—a communication, even a communion—of love.
If the purpose of the Spiritual Exercises—or any code of Christian living for that matter—is to conform ourselves to Christ, then this dynamic of feeding assumes even more import. Jesus’ first words to Peter in the Gospel of John were “Come and you will see.” His final words to Peter in this same Gospel and in the aftermath of this brief tutorial on feeding are “You follow me.” Which is to say “Be like me; love like me.”
—Fr. Charles Rodrigues, S.J., Associate Novice Director at the Jesuit Novitiate of St. Alberto Hurtado, St. Paul, MN. For more information on Jesuit vocations, click here.
teach me to be generous;
teach me to serve you
as you deserve,
to give and not to count the cost,
to fight and not to heed the wounds,
to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labor and not to seek reward,
except that of knowing that
I do your will.
—Prayer for Generosity, St. Ignatius of Loyola