When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.”
-- John 21: 15-17
What did Jesus mean? Why did he ask Peter three times, “Do you love me?” Why did Jesus tell Peter three times to feed his sheep? Peter didn’t get it and was a bit agitated, but remember, Jesus asked Peter the question post-crucifixion. His prophesy that Peter would deny him three times had already come true. But what does that have to do with us today? He wanted Peter to understand how important feeding his sheep was. The reasons we see society in the shape it’s in is because we haven’t heeded two of Jesus’ commands.
I’ve had more than a few people ask me about what’s going on in Ferguson, Missouri, New York, Cleveland, the San Francisco Bay area, and other places where folks are protesting police brutality and the lack of consequences for officers even in the face of video evidence.
We are seeing the latest set of uprisings because, while we’ve done a pretty good job of feeding his sheep in the physical sense, we’ve done a lousy job of feeding their minds and souls. The protesters are reminding us that we are not living up to our own high standards. They have a right to be upset. They don’t have the right to loot and burn.
During this time of year we feed the homeless, collect toys for the underprivileged, donate money to Salvation Army bell ringers and all sorts of wonderful things to feed the physical. The mind and soul get short shrift. We fight a constant battle to keep in the forefront the reason for the season, but we put people in a stereotypical box that -- in our heads -- they can never escape. Too many times we deal in generalities rather than individualities. And that’s why we are where we are.
Police brutality is not new. Bad community-police relations is not new; it can even be predicted. When we buy into the hype and believe every young man of color is a potential threat and not worthy of effort, people live in fear and some die.
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani implemented a stop-and-frisk policy that gave police great latitude to violate the rights of residents. Did it improve community-police relations? New York City has paid $40 million this year to settle claims of police brutality. The New York Times reports that some of the cases were settled because the city’s attorneys, with trust of police and the justice system at such a low point, were afraid to take cases to juries.
How do we feed the mind and soul? As with everything else, the solution is found in education, but even it cannot succeed in an atmosphere of shortsightedness. Politicians think in terms of two, four and six years. They don’t look beyond their next election. Most of our truly vexing problems can only be solved after decades of work. Few of us have the stick-to-itiveness to hang on that long.
This short-termed thinking has invaded education. With high-stakes testing, teachers are being forced to think in one-year increments rather than long-term. Giving a child what he or she needs to know to become a productive citizen is not on the test. Programs implemented to address some of the inadequacies that lead to educational deficiencies are only good for as long as the grants last. The grants are short-term band aids. Our feeding of his sheep isn’t supposed to come with the caveat, “if we can afford it.”
Finally the soul. I’m not about to harp on the old misconception, “they took prayer out of school,” because that didn’t happen. The same people who yell at the top of their voices that schools are trying to do too much want schools to re-enforce a spiritual connection -- their’s of course.
That spiritual connection is all of our jobs. Children learn by modeling, and too many times the adults they see aren’t living lives that provide good examples for them to copy. Until each of us starts feeding the minds, souls and bodies, of the sheep around us, there is only one direction we can go.
Charles E. Richardson is The Telegraph’s editorial page editor. He can be reached at 478-744-4342 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tweetendattr val="cface"/>