In Summary
  • Shepherding the sheep. When one is called to lead, they ought to attend to those they lead and be sacrificial, writes Msgr John Wynand Katende.

On the third appearance after His resurrection Jesus prepared a breakfast of fish and bread for them, and then commissioned Peter with the task of feeding His sheep and tending His lambs. He even prophesied the manner in which Peter would die (John 21:15-19). We may wonder why Jesus asked Peter the same question “Do you love me?” three times and Peter responded to each question, assuring the Lord of his love for Him.
Like other numbers often used in the Bible, the number 3 is significant. When someone repeats instructions to us three times, we quickly understand that it is important for us to take heed.

There were three righteous patriarchs before and after the flood: Abel, Enoch and Noah, then Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Israel), respectively. It is on the third day that God saves: Jonah is released from the belly of the whale on the third day. Saul, later known as Paul, regains his eyesight on the third day. Jesus prayed three times in the Garden of Gethsemane before His arrest. He was raised from the dead on the third day. There were only three individuals who witnessed Jesus’ transfiguration on Mount Tabor, namely Peter, John and James.

The shepherd
Unfortunately for Peter, he denied knowing Jesus three times before Jesus’ crucifixion (Matthew 26:69-74). Peter is hurt when Jesus asks him a third time, most likely because it made him recall his own three-fold denial of Jesus. Jesus offers Peter a three-fold opportunity for forgiveness. At every Eucharistic celebration, the worthy and victorious Lamb of God is invoked three times as the worshipers admit their need for forgiveness.

This episode is important. If Peter truly loves his Master, he is to unconditionally love, shepherd and care for Christ’s Church. We can be certain that the Risen Lord Himself leads and directs his Church today, through the encouragement, guidance and protection of the Holy Spirit. He did it for the Apostles and has done so for their successors, down through the ages in their mission.

The food with which shepherds are to feed the flock of God is the Word of God and the Eucharist. Jesus did not only preach the word of God, but also instituted the Eucharist, as indispensable spiritual food (John 6). In Mark 8:1-19, Jesus miraculously feeds thousands of people with bread and fish, in addition to the Word of God. He ordained His disciples to do the same in His name. Only when pastors feed their people the Word of God and the Eucharist, can they declare, as Peter did, their love for the Lord Jesus.

The New Testament uses the expression “the breaking of the bread” in reference to the Eucharistic food. During the Last Supper, Jesus took a loaf of bread and broke it and gave it to His disciples, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19).
The breaking of the bread has been re-enacted down through the centuries as a way of remembering that first celebration of both Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and the institution of the New Covenant in His blood.

It is at the breaking of the bread that Christians experience the real and glorified presence of the risen Lord is among them (Matthew 18:20). The natural consequence is for Christians to share themselves and their Faith with others.

Being shepherd is equal to being sacrificial
Finally, Jesus says that Peter will glorify God by his death just as Jesus glorified God by his. Becoming a Christian and pastor after Christ is often a long, painstaking, and arduous journey. It takes courage, compassion and commitment. It takes sacrificial giving so that others may not suffer but have enough. A love so profound implies the cross; martyrdom.

TIP
The New Testament uses the expression “the breaking of the bread” in reference to the Eucharistic food. During the Last Supper, Jesus took a loaf of bread and broke it and gave it to His disciples, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19).