Today’s excerpt from the WCC resources for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity will again be abbreviated, and I will share my own reflections on the gospel passage prior to the WCC prayer and questions for reflection.
Day Seven: Changed by the Good Shepherd
Feed my sheep (Jn 21:19)
– 1 Sam 2:1-10 Not by might does one prevail
– Psalm 23 You are there with your rod and your staff
– Eph 6:10-20 Be strong in the Lord
– Jn 21:15-19 Feed my sheep
On this day the Bible texts show us the Lord strengthening His flock. Following the Good Shepherd, we are called to strengthen each other in the Lord, and to support and fortify the weak and the lost. There is one Shepherd, and we are his people.
Many writers see this passage from the gospel of John, in which Peter is asked three times by the Lord “Do you love me?”, and is three times told to feed his flock, as a deliberate allusion to Peter’s earlier three-fold denial of the Lord during his Passion: indeed, that Jesus is deliberately reminding Peter of his three-fold failure. I find this interpretation particularly relevant to the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
Peter failed dramatically in faithfulness to Jesus. Just hours earlier, he had sworn with all his heart, “Even if I should have to die with you, I will never deny you!” And yet, in the moment, in the courtyard, surrounded by people who were likely to turn him in if they identified him as one of Jesus’ associates, his courage failed him.
We too have failed in faithfulness to Jesus, in our inability to preserve the visible unity of His mystical Body, the church. Perhaps we have failed in discernment, when we disagreed on matters of doctrine, or when we determined that those matters of doctrine were grave enough to be church-dividing. Perhaps we have failed in honesty, when we allowed motives of pride, or power, or worldly gain to creep in under cover of doctrinal disputes and drive us apart. Perhaps we have failed in empathy and understanding, when we could not even properly hear each other. Perhaps we have simply failed in love.
Jesus does not give up on us, any more than he gave up on Peter. “Do you love me?” he asks us again and again. “Then feed my sheep.”
Let us pray for the faith, the courage, the wisdom, the discernment, the honesty, the empathy, the understanding, and the love to persevere through what divides us until our visible unity is restored.
Father of all, You call us to be one flock in Your Son, Jesus Christ. He is our Good Shepherd who invites us to lie down in green pastures, leads us beside still waters, and restores our souls. In following him, may we so care for others that all see in us the love of
the one true Shepherd, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.
Questions for reflection
1. How does the Good Shepherd inspire us to comfort, revive, and restore the confidence of those who are lost?
2. In what ways can Christians of various traditions strengthen each other in confessing and bearing witness to Jesus Christ?
3. For us today, what can be the meaning of St Paul’s exhortation: “Be strong in the Lord…. put on the whole armour of God”?