Easter 3C: Feed My Sheep–Oh Look! A Squirrel!

Easter 3C: Feed My Sheep–Oh Look! A Squirrel!

John 21:1-19

By: The Rev. Paul Carlson

Getting distracted is far too easy.  It comes in many forms, alongside every thought and intended action.  For example: how many windows do you have open on your computer screen at this very moment?  Can anything be truly distraction free? Or is distraction simply a part of life that we must learn to adapt, utilize, and reframe as multi-tasking? Well, yes and no.

We cannot get through life without being able to multi-task, but at the same time we certainly need to be able to focus and prioritize our attentions and efforts—to say yes to certain tasks and no to others. Often, the most difficult task to focus on is listening.  It certainly is for me, and I suspect that holds true for much of the world. Take, for example, this cartoon:




Scan 59

As the saying goes: “It’s funny because it’s true.”  Throughout the Gospels, the disciples are constantly mishearing and failing to understand the words of Jesus.  And I believe that we do too. There are simply too many distractions.

After all, the Risen Lord himself is a distraction! He walks around after three days of being dead as if that was no big deal, and appears in the midst of his loved ones hiding behind locked doors, overwhelmed by fear. The shock of his death and resurrection is still wrestled with even today, thousands of years later.  Is it any wonder that the disciples who knew Jesus best, even after witnessing these events with their own eyes, go back to the one thing they know best?  Although they were told on multiple occasions to “have no fear” they were most certainly still afraid, stressed, and overwhelmed by the chaos of their experiences.

They were so distracted by their emotions they couldn’t catch a single fish—the very trade that they made both a living and an identity out of as professional fisherman.  These distractions are so powerful that we should be cautious of sneering at the disciples who struggle to listen or comprehend the words of their Lord and Savior.  Their struggle is ours too.

Take this specific passage of scripture for example. The number of distractions that we (especially those of us who are clergy) can find within these 19 short verses alone is bordering on the ridiculous.  If we’re not careful, we can “geek out” on all sorts of little details and completely miss out on the hugely important and absolutely core message of our faith, which Jesus is sharing.

Did you catch that connection the author is making here in this scene to when Jesus first called for his disciples to follow him?  Most people take clothes off to jump into the sea, but  Peter puts them on. Does this symbolize the clothing that Adam and Eve put on to hide from God in the garden? Is Peter trying to hide his sinfulness in denying Jesus?  Since John (er, I mean “that disciple whom Jesus loved”) and Peter are constantly being compared in this gospel, does the fact that John himself ran from the garden in only his loincloth have anything to do with this? What kind of love is Jesus talking about? Philia? Eros? Agape?

Preachers would do well to steer clear of these and other questions from the pulpit. They are distractions—distractions that are just the tip of the iceberg that can so easily sink the message Jesus is trying so desperately to get across. The Church needs to focus on the issue that is at the core of the faith that Christ emphasizes by directly and intimately equating it to loving him.

Focus on Jesus’ words to Peter and literally do not get distracted by anything else.  In a world where it is estimated that a child dies of hunger related causes every 10 seconds, such distractions can be a matter of life and death.

Act it out.  This exchange between Peter and Jesus is far too powerful to gloss over in the pulpit with a monotone voice, detached from any of the emotions present either in the scripture itself or the gathered body of Christ that will be present to listen and hear the Gospel on Sunday.  Allow the congregation to take on the role of Peter.  Make it even more personal and switch out the names, if you think it would help.  Give them their script, write it in the bulletin, do whatever you can to make it hit home.  Explain your role if you need to, just to do away with the awkward distraction of playing Jesus. But most of all, say it out loud. Together.

Leader:  [insert name of congregation] Do you love me?

Congregation:  Yes Lord, I love you.

L:  Feed my sheep.  (slight pause)  [Insert name of congregation] Do you love me?

C:  Yes Lord, I love you.

L:  Feed my sheep.  (slight pause)  [Insert name of congregation] Do you love me?

C:  Yes Lord, I love you.

L:  Feed my sheep.

Saying these words out loud together will move you and your congregation with the power of their repetition. The Spirit will be doing the pushing and pulling, just as Peter himself, we read, was torn with inner conflict as he spoke to the living Lord.  I doubt it will be much different for us.  Feeding the hungry will always tear us apart with distracting emotions, philosophies, strategies, and judgements.  Almost as much as an empty stomach will tear apart the mind, body, and soul of a hungry child that is.

Don’t be distracted.  “Feed my sheep,” Jesus says.  So let’s do it.  For the sake of Our Beloved, the one we Christians say we love.  Jesus.  He said it—even we said it—three times.  So now let’s do it.  Let us feed his sheep.


The Rev. Paul Carlson


The Rev. Paul Carlson is a Lutheran (ELCA) pastor, along with his wife, Pastor Lauren Carlson, at Calvary Lutheran Church in Morganton, North Carolina. Originally from the West Coast, he moved from San Diego to Dubuque, Iowa where he graduated from Wartburg Seminary. He has served calls in Wisconsin and Virginia and is now enjoying the opportunity he gets as a half-time pastor, raising two children in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.

One thought on “Easter 3C: Feed My Sheep–Oh Look! A Squirrel!

  1. This exchange between Jesus & Peter has fueled my work life, fighting The War on Poverty for fifteen years was a mission field for me, feeding sheep more than 40 hours a week. (Politicians often are uncomfortable with the idea that you fight poverty because Jesus tells you to!)

    Suddenly, a grievance is filed against me and I am seeking a new way to tend and feed sheep.

    Amazing how the passage I need is in the RCL this week, now isn’t it?


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