You’re Not You When You’re Hungry
Third Sunday of Easter—Year C
May 5, 2019
“Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep.”
Three times Jesus repeats these instructions to Peter—to feed my sheep.
Growing up, I was taught these were spiritual instructions. Jesus, concerned with the spiritual well-being of his followers and those who will soon come to know and follow him, wants to ensure they have a spiritual shepherd—someone to ensure they are fed a steady diet of sound teaching and right doctrine.
Now, this is not necessarily a wrong interpretation of these words. In fact, I think Jesus is instructing Peter to do exactly this—to ensure that the people of God receive spiritual nourishment to sustain them and help them grow in their faith and love of God and love of others. And, I don’t think this is all Jesus is asking. Jesus’ instruction to feed my sheep includes the spiritual and the physical as well.
We don’t have to look very far to see the ways in which all of Scripture, and the ministry of Jesus in particular, is interwoven with food. In the Hebrew Bible, food is a frequent theme, from the Passover meal, to the naming of the Promised Land–“land of milk and honey,” to the gift of manna in the wilderness; food plays a critical role in the journey of the people of God. And Jesus continues and amplifies this theme throughout his ministry.
Jesus first miracle takes place in the midst of a feast and it helps ensure everyone’s cup stays filled; he feeds thousands with a few small loaves and a few fish; he guides the disciples to the best fishing spots so their nets fill to overflowing with delicious, fresh fish. He dines with sinners and saints alike and it is often over a meal that his followers first recognize him after the Resurrection.
Jesus reveals in these moments, and so many others, that feeding sheep is just as much about physical food as it is about spiritual.
There is a phrase that has grown in popularity over the last several years—to be hangry. Being hangry is a state in which our physical hunger affects our emotional and mental state, and, I would argue, our spiritual one as well. All of us have experienced these moments—there’s an entire set of TV commercials based around this idea of how hunger affects our behavior—“You’re not you when you’re hungry, have a Snickers.”
Being hangry may be excellent fodder for some good commercials and funny internet memes, but there is a serious side to this—one that Jesus is asking us to be aware of in his instruction to feed his sheep.
We are embodied souls. Our bodies, our minds, our hearts, and our souls are intertwined and what affects one affects the other. When we are hungry or thirsty, our minds don’t function well, our emotions are out of control, and even our soul can feel disconnected and alone. When we live in this state for long periods of time it leads to physical malnutrition and spiritual starvation.
When we exist for too long without the physical nourishment our bodies need—either in the case of the lack of nutritious, healthy food or the lack of food altogether our entire being suffers. Food is not just about feeding the body, it is also about feeding the mind, the heart, and the soul.
This is why food is so central to so many of the things we participate in here at St. Mark’s. Think about our partnership with St. Luc’s School in Haiti—where our gifts go directly to provide a nutritious lunch to the students and their teachers every school day. Or our partnership with WARM Center, where the monthly meal we prepare helps feed those in need in our own community.
While these two may be the most obvious ways food is central to our ministry here at St. Mark’s, they are far from the only way.
Think about our Meal Train, which provides frozen meals to people in our parish to help them through a challenging time—be it a time of sickness or loss, or one of joy and transformation with the arrival of a new child. As someone who was the recipient of this particular “feeding program” I can tell you the benefits of it went far beyond a warm meal. In the midst of massive life change with Henry’s arrival, feasting on food lovingly prepared by my St. Mark’s family served as a source of comfort in those early, sleep-deprived, confusing days.
Even something as seemingly simple and “workaday” as our after-service Coffee Hour is, in fact, a holy experience of food. As we share sweet treats and healthy snacks, we linger, and talk. We have the chance to connect on a deeper level, to get to know people we may otherwise not see, and to offer each other support and encouragement as we munch.
This is one of the reasons why I think Jesus instructed Peter, and us, to feed his sheep. Because Jesus knew food has the power to break down walls. When we share a meal together, we are participating in an activity that is common across all humanity. We all eat! We all hunger and thirst, and we all come together around the table to find sustenance and community.
In a few minutes we’ll gather around this table and share a meal—as you receive this food and drink, listen for the voice of the shepherd as it reminds each of us to feed my sheep and then go forth and do likewise.