By Rev. Dr. Angelique Walker-Smith
Jesus said to [Simon Peter], “Do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.”
A second time, he said to him, “Do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.”
He said to him the third time … do you love me?” … “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep …. Follow me.” John 21:15-19 RSV
The holy season of Advent, Christmas, Remembrance of the Innocents, and Epiphany is upon us. Love is a theme of this season, so we turn to John 21:15-19, where Jesus asks Simon Peter three times if he loves him. This scripture leads us to ask ourselves, Do we really care and consider others in all we think and do? Stevie Wonder asked this same question in his 1976 song “Love’s in Need of Love Today.” Stevie tells us to not delay our love, but to send it out right away—not only to those who are familiar to us, but to those unfamiliar as well. He says that hate is going around breaking too many hearts, and he pleads with us to stop this before it goes too far.
Today, we see that love is in need of love when we consider the rise in hate speech on social media. While social media can be a platform for helpful information and encouragement, too often it is a platform for hate—resulting in heartbreak across communities and within individuals. Lamentably, a recent study by L1ght revealed that there has been a 70 percent increase in hate speech during the pandemic on the social media platforms most utilized by adolescents, with destructive ramifications.
We need to overcome these pernicious influences and choose to rejoice in the right. In I Corinthians 13:4-7, Paul expounds on what Jesus means when he speaks of love: “Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
All things is the closing refrain in this text. It resonates with the lyrics of Stevie Wonder when he asks us to not only love those within our familiar places, but to love the world, including all peoples and all that dwell on the earth.
As we love God’s entire creation, Jesus tells us to take special care to feed his lambs. Lambs are younger sheep and represent the most vulnerable, those who are often less visible in our society, unprotected and unloved. Jesus also says to feed and tend to his sheep. Those of us who are older and more protected still need God’s love and nurture, but more is expected of us. If we love God, we will love and serve the most vulnerable, who are not embraced by systems, structures, and policies. By doing so, we will right the wrongs.
Bread for the World is committed to God’s divine love, which summons our voices and actions with and for those who are the most vulnerable by advocating for policies that right the wrongs. Go here to learn more.
Angelique Walker-Smith is senior associate for Pan African and Orthodox Church Engagement at Bread for the World.