Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep.’ (John 21:17)
Several people have asked me what I think about the possibility that the Roman Catholic bishops may issue a statement that would exclude from communion any politicians, like President Biden, who think that abortion shouldn’t be legally abolished. My primary response to this controversy is confusion. I’m confused because how can any church, or any group of clergy, countermand Jesus’ command that we “feed the sheep.” He didn’t say feed only those who agree with us, or only those we like, or only those who subscribe to our doctrines, dogmas, policies, or social policies. No, Jesus said to feed the sheep. Who are the sheep? All of us. As sheep, who needs the Shepherd? We all do.
Just think about everything that President Biden is facing. Isn’t this someone who needs to be fed the presence of Jesus? I’m puzzled how any group could contemplate excommunicating him from the altar that has informed, shaped, nurtured, healed, blessed, fed, and inspired him his whole life? If we stepped back from the controversy for a moment, don’t we want the presence of Jesus to be with the president as he meets with President Putin, as he tries to recalibrate our relationship with China, or as he repairs our relationship with our allies, or as he searches for peace in the Middle East, or as he tries to save lives in this country from the devastating effects of Covid-19?
I’ve stood at God’s altar for nearly 40 years. I have repeated Jesus’ words “this is my body” more times than I can remember. I’ve offered the presence of Jesus to God’s people in every circumstance of life—in grief and joy, to welcome new life and to help usher a person from this life to the next, to bless and strengthen a couple just getting started, and to simply feed the children of God week in and week out to help them remember who they are, whose they are, and what they need to be about. Not once have I ever had the nerve or security or confidence to exclude any child of God when they knelt before God’s altar and held out their hands. I always felt it was my role, calling, and privilege to feed everyone who came to receive.
Let me tell you a mystery. Although I totally believe that Jesus is present at communion, I couldn’t tell how or when He does become present. Even though I don’t have language that can capture or fully describe how Jesus feeds us at the altar, I do believe—without a doubt—that He does.
Let me tell you another mystery. I’ve been privileged to deal with, minister to, bless, comfort, and challenge more of God’s children and Jesus’ disciples than I could count, and I can tell you that we should never judge, assess, or critique anyone else’s relationship with God or the “inner workings” of their faith or soul.
I think that the hope in today’s reflection comes not from how any controversies in any church are resolved. Instead, our hope comes from what Jesus says: Feed the sheep. Who are the sheep? We are. Who’s the Shepherd? He is. Who’s hungry? We are. What’s the food that He feeds us? His mercy, strength, grace, courage, peace, and love. Once fed, what does Jesus want us to do with all the other sheep around us? Feed them.
I believe that Jesus came to this world to reconcile all of God’s children to the Father. I believe that Jesus went to the cross so that everyone could come into God’s saving embrace. I believe that when the disciples of Jesus gather in any and every context or service or liturgy, it is Jesus’ hope and desire that all of God’s children would be fed the love and grace that we all need.
- How has Jesus fed you?
- Once fed, who has He asked you to feed?
- How do you think that churches could work through their differences not by drawing lines about who is in and who is out, but in ways that included all?