I came across something that I think is pretty mind blowing yesterday. On Saturday, Joe and I took Shona, Patrick and Shannon to see some friends of ours. Archie and Sandra manage a croft, or small farm, just outside Dingwall, some fifteen to twenty miles from Inverness. They keep sheep, and the last few weeks have been filled with helping the ewes give birth to lambs. There are one or two orphan lambs and one or two ewes that have difficulty feeding their offspring, so the family are helping the smaller lambs by feeding them with bottles of milk. We thought that Shannon and Patrick would enjoy feeding lambs.
The phrase "Feed my lambs" really struck a chord with me, and I took out my bible to read the account of Jesus' resurrection appearance to his disciples when they had gone fishing, caught nothing and followed his instructions to let the nets down on the other side of the boat. Later on in the passage Jesus and Peter have a conversation about love, and Jesus prophesies about Peter's death. Right at the end of all of that are the words, "Then he said to him (Peter), "Follow me!"" (John 21:19)
This was not the first time that Jesus had challenged Peter to follow him. Three years ago, in pretty much the same place, "As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." At once they left their nets and followed him." (Mark 1:16-18)
Peter had no idea what he was letting himself in for. He had no idea what the next three years or so would hold - seeing people healed, demons cast out, the dead raised. It was new, and exciting, and the high was higher than any catch of fish from his BC life. It was an adventure.
The second "Follow me!" challenge comes three years later. It comes after the greatest disappointment, not with Jesus, but with himself. For all the miraculous signs that Peter had witnessed, what stood out in his mind was his betrayal. He had boldly proclaimed that even if the other disciples ran away, he would stay the course. He didn't. What Peter can offer Jesus now is not sacrificial love, but the love of a friend - a watered down version of what Jesus is asking for. Jesus accepts it, knowing that the friendship will deepen and the commitment will be to the death one day.
So when Jesus says, "Follow me!" it is like he is saying, "The first time I asked you to follow me, you didn't know what was going to happen. You thought you could climb mountains, and that you couldn't fail. Now you know just how weak you really are, but I still want you on my team. In fact I want you more than ever, because you know just how much you have to lean on me. I am entrusting my lambs, my precious ones, into your care."
We all have those first "Follow me!" challenges, and like Peter we end up face down in the mud, tripping up over our own pride and confidence. We feel that we have written ourselves out of Jesus' plans by our failure. But…there is another "Follow me!" challenge that Jesus gives us. For those of us who have been a Christian for a long time, we have a history of mistakes and misunderstandings and downright rebellions, and we have an experience of the hard times that sometimes takes the shine off our Christian life. Jesus repeats his challenge - "Follow me" - He still wants us on His team, more than ever, because we know how much we need to lean on Him.