Called to be commodities brokers?
A commodity is typically an agricultural product that is bought, traded, or sold on a market and even future speculation on such commodities is also traded. Wheat, corn, copper, gold, oil, and natural gas, sugar, cocoa, lumber, unleaded gasoline, and cotton all qualify as commodities.
So when we look at the passage for this coming Sunday from John 21:1-19, we see the some of the post-Easter disciples engaged in fishing, back to the commodity trade. Jesus even gives a little jab to their unsuccessful efforts at getting back into the trade. But Jesus isn’t concerned about his seafood shares in his portfolio. In this story he’s going to make things right with Peter who betrayed him.
The exchange of restoration goes like this:
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that 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 said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”
(John 21:15-17 NRSV).
Here, is Jesus using commodity type language to describe people? I don’t think so. Jesus was a shepherd, but not of actual sheep and goats. This passage isn’t meant to be literal. Jesus is a shepherd of people (and a fisher of people too). So, if this passage isn’t literal and Jesus is talking about people, what verbs is Jesus using and what purpose might we infer from the exchange?
Jesus tells Peter to feed and tend his flock. Does Jesus tell Peter this so he can have a huge ‘flock’ to sell or trade and become rich and/or famous? I don’t think so. I don’t think Peter is called to be tend and feed to better himself or grow the portfolio. I think it’s because Jesus sees people with compassion, like he said in Matthew 9:36 “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
I think the profit from in answering the call to shepherding lost sheep or tending and feeding to the flock isn’t to make disciples wealthy, I think it’s to expand the number of people who experience and share in the love of Jesus Christ.
Sometimes I worry that as a church we get in a commodity mindset. We want new people, young people to be a part of our church so that we don’t have to work as hard, so that our church doesn’t die, so that we feel good. So, we go about trying to answer the call to tend and feed for our own benefit, to make sure we see a return on the investment we’ve made as a large church. But people typically resist being commodified, right? No one likes the feeling of being used for the benefit of others.
There is nothing wrong with wanting the church to grow and to reach more people, to grow the flock. But it’s the why that makes all the difference. If we want to reach more people so that they can experience the unique way we embody and share God’s grace like we have at UMCG, then that’s the kind of shepherding that Jesus was calling Peter to do. IF we want to reach more people to be a blessing to them so that they can bless the community and world, that’s the kind of shepherding we see in John. But if our why is about us or our traditions and not about Jesus… then I think we might be commodity brokers and not disciples.
Think about the ‘why’ you want to reach more people for our church. Examine it. If it’s clearly a commodity-based ‘why,’ invite God to help you change your heart, thinking and behavior to be more like Peter’s. If you are not sure, ask God to help you discern and make any adjustments God would have you make. If your ‘why’ is spot on, then invite others to help you tend and feed as we seek to love God and neighbor by making and nursing disciples of Jesus Christ who serve the community and world.