Flock of Sheep and Shepherd in an Open Landscape in Summer,
Painted by Alexandre Defaux (1826-1900),
Painted late 19th century
Oil on canvas
© Dorotheum Vienna / Alamy
Feed my lambs, feed my sheep
John 21: 15-19
Jesus showed himself to his disciples, and after they had eaten he said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these others do?’ He answered, ‘Yes Lord, you know I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ A second time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He replied, ‘Yes, Lord, you know I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Look after my sheep.’ Then he said to him a third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter was upset that he asked him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ and said, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep.
‘I tell you most solemnly,
when you were young
you put on your own belt
and walked where you liked;
but when you grow old
you will stretch out your hands,
and somebody else will put a belt round you
and take you where you would rather not go.’
In these words he indicated the kind of death by which Peter would give glory to God. After this he said, ‘Follow me.’
Reflection on the painting
Just before Jesus was crucified, Peter denied Jesus three times. In our Gospel reading today, the risen Jesus now asks Peter three times, ‘Do you love me?’ Jesus thus gave Peter the opportunity to reverse his threefold denial. By asking the question ‘Do you love me?’ three times, Jesus prompted Peter to make a fresh start. Even though Peter had been unfaithful to Jesus in his greatest hour of need, Jesus remained faithful to him.
When Peter answered each time ‘Yes Lord, you know I love you’ Jesus was ready to move on. The air was cleared and Jesus tenderly built upon this magnificent moment of mercy: he appointed Peter as the chief shepherd in his church. He instructed Peter: ’Feed my lambs, feed my sheep’.
As we see in this depiction of a shepherd in our late 19th- century painting by Alexandre Defaux, feeding sheep means much more than just providing food. It refers to the entire work of a shepherd: nurturing, guiding, tending, protecting, healing and caring for his sheep. Peter was now being asked to nurture the very first believers in Christ and help build his Church. But we too are called to shepherd one another and to care for and look out for one another.
Share this Gospel Reading
Did you like this Gospel reading and art reflection?
Join in the discussion about this artwork & Gospel reading
Readings related to John 21: 15-19
Join our community
In addition to receiving our Daily Gospel Reading and Art Reflection, signing up for a free membership allows you to: