“Feed my lambs” took on a whole new meaning for me this week.
When Jesus restored Peter, following his famous denial, he called him to feed and care for his lambs and sheep three times. The metaphor of sheep permeates Scripture depicting God’s care for his people (see Psalm 23, Ezekiel 34 and John 10 for examples). By extension, shepherding is used as a metaphor for leadership among God’s people (1 Peter 5:2 and Acts 20:28-29).
On Sunday, we accepted an orphaned lamb from a friend. At only a few days old, this little lamb needs constant feeding and care. Micah, our youngest, has taken nobly to the task, and we’ve been helping him.
With just a few days of care under our belts, I’ve already gained insight into why Jesus calls us his sheep, and why he’d use caring for sheep as a metaphor for ministry.
Here’s what I’m learning so far:
- Lambs can only handle small doses of milk at a time. In fact, over-feeding is a danger (it can kill them), so you need to make sure you are giving the right amount and not forcing them to eat too much.
- Because of the small doses, lambs need regular feeding. Every 2-3 hours (yes, including the night) this little lamb needs milk. You can’t just put a bunch out and let it drink when it’s hungry; you need to actually warm up some milk and bottle feed it, every few hours.
- Lambs need help both eating and pooping. This came as a bit of a surprise to me, and for you non-farmers out there, brace yourselves. When you feed the lamb, you also take a cloth and “stimulate” the “exit” with warm water, helping the lamb defecate as well as eat. And the instinctual connection is very strong. A mama sheep would lick the lamb, including . . . yes, including that, and this caring act of washing the lamb’s bum immediately gets her eagerly bunting and wiggling her tail and wanting milk. It’s magical!
- Lambs are fragile. They need to be kept warm and protected. If their body heat gets too low, they can die. We set up a heat lamp for her and have created an area in our barn that’s safe and cozy.
- And lambs follow the closest thing with legs. Our little lamb will do anything to stay close to you. In fact, when Micah tears off at a run, she is right behind him, moving faster than you’d expect! She’s also fallen in love with one of our dogs (who is mutually enraptured), and she stays very close to her, moving in and out from under her, even nuzzling around for some teats to enjoy!
All of this made me reflect. Based on my very limited experience with lambs, I saw some interesting connections to how Jesus cares for us.
When we come to follow Jesus, he takes us as we are, knowing our fragility and recognizing our needs. Jesus doesn’t overwhelm people new into his care; rather, he feeds them in small doses, knowing that overfeeding is deadly. At the risk of using an image you’ve never wanted to think about, Jesus helps us eat and poop, giving us vital nutrition for our newly formed bodies and helping us get rid of the things we need to dump. In fact, intake and outflow goes hand in hand, and without both, we die. Small doses in, small doses out, all under the loving hand of Jesus. Wrapping us in community, Jesus keeps us protected and warm as we adjust to the regular life of following him. Jesus knows that newborns follow anything with legs, which makes us both ready to follow him, but also susceptible to anything else with legs, too. So he keeps us close, calls us to him, and watches over us as we grow. He knows that before long, even running hard won’t prevent us from clipping at his heels in our eager attempts to keep up.
And following our Good Shepherd, we need to care for new followers of Jesus in similar ways. There is no condescension meant here, and the metaphor breaks down if applied too heavily, but I see some practical reminders that help me care for new followers, offering smaller, regular doses, helping process what is coming in and what is needing to go out, walking closely and giving guidance to a way of life that will soon become second nature to a maturing follower of Jesus.
Jesus said “feed my lambs”. And I’m glad for this opportunity to actually feed a lamb and experience a little more of what he might have meant when he gave this call.
Oh, it’s been a few hours. Time to warm up some more milk.