Most of us have eventually caved in, and the cute little ball of fur or odd little aquarium creature has made its way into our homes. As anticipated, the child’s squeals of delight soon fade into disinterest, and we become victims of our own capitulation. Even though generations of parents before us have left perfectly good examples and incredibly detailed warnings, we follow along and repeat their mistake. With idle threats and mumbled complaints, we dish out the food, clean up the mess, and yes, (I’m whispering here) we enjoy them.
We take on that responsibility, not because we love the tasks but because it takes CARING to be a CARE-GIVER. We care. Something tugs on our heartstrings when we hear the little puppy whine or witness the fish staring through the glass of an algae-murky tank. We realize that, through no fault of its own, the little animal has been neglected, and we step in to do the things we said we wouldn’t do. We pick up the poop and change the litter.
Jesus knew that CARING was a necessary element the Church would need. He also knew that the building material for that church was PEOPLE…People requiring care. They need food and water and comforts and petting. They need looking after. They shed their skin and become vulnerable. They poop and leave it for someone to clean. They weave between other’s feet and create stumbling blocks. They want to be coddled and scratched behind the ears. They’re an awful lot like pets---and the pests pets can sometimes be.
Even though Jesus knew that PEOPLE would require care, he didn’t shout a resounding “No!” and declare that He wasn’t going to have a church. Instead, he made provision for how to handle the stink that was sure to be a part of it. John 21 tells about an encounter Jesus had with Peter. This conversation occurred in the following context: Jesus had recently risen from the dead. Peter and some disciples were fishing. Peter hears that Jesus is on the bank, so he jumps into the water and wades to shore where Jesus sat cooking fish for them. The rest of the folks in the boat bring in the miraculous catch of 153 fish and join them on land. They enjoy a marvelous fish fry and the company of the One they thought they’d never see again.
This scene is poignant on so many levels. I don’t know about you, but if I had the chance to visit with a dead loved one, whom I had thought I’d never see again, I’d be hanging on to that person’s every word and savoring every moment we’d share. Peter had this opportunity. There, with a stomach full, he leans in to hear Jesus ask him, not once, but three times, “Simon, do you love me?” Each time, Peter replied with a confident, “Yes, Lord!” But on the third time, the New Century Version of the Bible records these words, “Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ Peter said, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you!’ He said to him, ‘Feed my sheep.’” It was the same message Jesus had used each time Peter had professed his love.
In parent lingo, Jesus said, “If you love me, take care of my pets.”
Jesus told Peter to take care of His people, His church---yes, His pesky, persistent, persnickety PEOPLE-Pets. Impetuous Peter would have found this an impossible task except for one thing: Love. Not love for the sheep (those cranky, foolish, arguing new believers), rather love for Jesus.
Peter, recently forgiven for his denial of Christ, full on the meal Jesus had prepared, enjoying the face-to-face company of the one he thought would be forever removed from his live, was given the parent-secret: You have to CARE to be a CARE-GIVER.
When the stinky shows up in the church, we have an answer, the same answer that Jesus gave in those precious moments between his resurrection and his ascension. Have compassion. Not because the person’s worthy of grace, but because we love the One Who is gracious. Like Peter, we can be willing to pay the price of caring because of our love for the eternal care-giver. Carnality abounds like hair balls. Gossip remains as slimy as algae. Sin-troubles still stink like poo. But, like Peter, we can handle it.
Our compassion for a pitiful pet causes us to follow through on unpleasant chores, and as we do, we find that an attachment has grown. In the same way, as we “serve one another in love,” we build relationships with Jesus’ people-- those pet sheep of His. We don’t have to like everything about everyone. In fact, we should always find sin that creeps into the church just as disgusting as over-used kitty litter, but when we separate the sin from the sinner, we are doing much the same as separating the dog’s bad behavior of strewing the trash all over the house from the pet who turned it over. In spite of the wrong, there’s worth.
We give in to the plea for a pet because we love our kids. In the same way, our love for Jesus prompts us to care for others. Just as there is always the option of getting rid of the pet, we can haul Jesus’ sheep to the slaughter or carry his pups to the pound, but when we’ve been the care giver and developed a caring heart, that’s hard to do. It’s that subtle change that takes place when we take the Parent-or the Peter-challenge to love Jesus’ way. In doing for others WE are changed, becoming who Jesus knew we could be all along.
“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” John 13:34-35