You Meant it For Evil…

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At the end of Genesis is the story of Joseph and his brothers. Joseph goes on a long and arduous journey, sent out from home, betrayed by his brothers, taken as a slave in Egypt where he rises from the lowly shepherd-servant to the great vizier in Pharaoh’s court, second only to Pharaoh in power. Joseph grows from wounded to wisdom. If you read the story carefully you will see that Joseph’s journey mirrors our own. Each event in his life is a place that we too pass through on our own journey’s to wholeness and maturity. This is a very human paradigm, which coincides with the passages that we make in this adventure called life. In Joseph we see the sacred design we are enacted in the drama of this one person’s life as the story of creation closes.

Because Joseph is in Egypt and in charge of the management when a famine comes, he will be able to send for his family and save the ones who betrayed him from starving to death. Save the family of Jacob-Israel to become a nation with a far reaching destiny. Like our lives too, Joseph’s life is informed by dreams, dreams Joseph knows how to interpret. For he is not only shepherd, but also the wise dreamer. Near the end of the story when Joseph’s brothers finally recognize who he is, they are fearful that he will retaliate for the evil they did to him. But, now knowing that it is the hand of Yahweh that has led them all to where they are, he tells them: You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.

There is another well-know story of a journey, that ends with much the same words Joseph spoke to his brothers. It is the journey that Jesus makes and the words the risen Christ echoes to those he met along the road, by the lakeside in the Upper Room. For God sustained and journeyed with Joseph throughout his life. It is this same God, the God of Israel, who sustained and brought Jesus beyond (even) death. At the close of Genesis, out of the garden, from tree of life, to the tree of death, to another garden, at the close of Jesus’ earthly life, we are reminded once more, that the gift was not lost when we left the garden, but continues in unhampered freedom as the good will of God to all of his creation, to all of us.

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Feed My Lambs

 

  shepherd   Now we have seen Peter twice after the Resurrection. Once where he runs ahead of the others to the empty tomb. The next is when he literally casts himself from the fishing boat into the water when he sees Jesus on the shore of Tiberias. In both instances Peter hurries ahead of the others, unafraid to get to get to Jesus and see him up close. Perhaps his joy and eagerness to see Jesus is because there is something he sorely needs to say to Jesus.

The last thing Jesus did with his disciples was share a meal with them. The first thing he does after the Resurrection is also to share a meal with them. A meal of fish and bread. Echoes of the loaves and fishes. A sacred symmetry meant to evoke their memories. A chance to talk, to catch up, or simply to be in his startling presence. To remember what he had said to them and suddenly realize the significance of all he did and all he said. The significance of his life. And now the significance of their lives, especially Peter’s.

After the meal Jesus takes Peter aside. He wants to ask him a question. He has a job for Peter to do. Commentaries and sermons on this scene often focus on the three questions ‘do you love me?’ as the way in which Peter redeems himself from the thrice denial of knowing Jesus during the trial. What I find wonderfully consistent with who Jesus was before and now, is that he doesn’t chide Peter, he doesn’t even bring the denials up. He doesn’t condemn Peter as a sinner. He doesn’t go right for the sin. He goes right for the very heart of Peter. He goes to the man he knows Peter to be, in all his exuberance; impetuous, skeptical, self-protective and, yes, a man scared of death. He knows what that feeling felt like.

Why does Jesus ask Peter if he loves him, if, as Peter insists, Jesus already knows Peter loves him? And Jesus knows he does. Perhaps because Peter needs to hear himself say the words. Perhaps because Jesus also knows the doubt that may still be lingering with him, especially his own self-doubt and self-condemnation.  For no one is more aware of Peter’s sorrow and shame than Peter. In repeating that he loves Jesus, Jesus gives Peter a chance to not only forgive himself, but also to focus on what is really important to Him.

With each affirmation of his love for Jesus, Jesus tells Peter to feed my lambs. Look after my sheep. Feed my sheep. Jesus is asking this fisherman to become a shepherd. The catch is in. A shepherd to those lambs-innocent followers of his who are going to be in need of protection from the wolves still prowling about waiting to snatch them away from the greener pastures of Jesus’ fellowship. His sheep-the inner circle of those more seasoned in following Jesus, his disciples. Look after them. Clearly Jesus is concerned for them. Wants them to be taken care of. Wants them to safe. And yet….

Jesus is evoking the image of past shepherds of Israel, like Joseph, who saved his family and all of Egypt from starving to death when the famine came. Who led them to safer pastures. (At least for a few hundred years.) Of the lowly shepherd boy who slay the Goliath waiting to devour his people and led them to a kingdom where he would be their first king. The old kingdom was gone. The new kingdom would need another kind of shepherding. Surely Jesus knew it would take all the shepherding qualities, to feed, to ensure well-being, to be ever watchful, to make sure that none get lost, that all have safe pasturing. Peter is making his pledge and promise, a pledge and promise because he loves Jesus.

After Jesus tells Peter the cost, he simply repeats the first words he ever said to him. Follow me.