My kids do this thing that I think all children do.
My wife and I are like most parents. We want our children to receive good nutrition and to receive it often. We balance out their meals with fruits, vegetables, meat and grains. Regularly we place this well balanced smorgasbord of great proteins, carbs and sugars in front of them.
My children do a great job of picking through the options, eating their favorites of that day. The fruit usually disappears first. After that the cheese. Then, if they are in a growth spurt, the meat and grain. If not they are usually done. Some days they don’t eat much at all because they really aren’t hungry.
But other days they look up at my wife and I, with plenty of food still on the plate, and say, “I am still hungry.”
“Well then eat your ham.”
They look at us awkwardly.
“I don’t very much like ham. I was planning on more grapes.” Or applesauce, or oatmeal or something else completely random.
As it turns out, in toddler terms, “I am still hungry” does not mean, “you are not feeding me.” It means, “you are not feeding me what I want.”
Church people do this thing that all people do.
I am like most pastors. We want our congregation to receive great spiritual nourishment. We want their lives to be drenched in the Scriptures. We want their love to overflow to the least and lonely. We want their trust in Jesus to be commendable, the faith worthy of the saints! We want their hope to be encouraging, conquering and casting out the worst of fear.
So we pastors work hard to balance out their spiritual plate with outreach events, discipleship groups, book studies, engaging worship services, and just plain fun get together’s.
They do a great job of picking through their favorites, going to what they want to go to and participating where they want. But then they look at the rest of our ministries and tell us, “I am not being fed.”
To most church people this sounds like a brilliant critique. After all it is biblical, stemming from John 21 where Jesus tells Peter three times, “Feed my sheep/lambs.”
They think that the pastoral job is Peter’s job, to make sure that the good church people are “fed.” They think they can get away with insulting our work if they use the metaphor that Jesus did. “Jesus said you should feed me and I am not being fed.” That is code for, “You are failing Jesus.”
They are right that Jesus’ command to Peter was not just for Peter. What they get wrong is that Jesus’ command to Peter was for everybody who calls themselves a “church person.” After all, the church’s mission is the apostolic mission and the apostolic mission extends to the “sheep that are not of this fold.” (see John 10:16). When Jesus told Peter to feed the sheep, he was talking to the entire church, laity and clergy alike to feed the world and nourish them into the Spirit’s presence.
In light of that, I wonder if those who are “still hungry” are so because they have a full plate in front of them, a plate full of ministry and service opportunities that give spiritual food to both the giver and receiver. But they don’t realize it because that food looks like green beans. And they are not very hungry for green beans.
In their lingo, “I am not being fed” doesn’t really mean, “I am hungry.” It means, “I don’t like the food that you are offering.”
Just a thought for a winter’s Sunday afternoon.
Blessings on the week ahead. May God give you the food you need to feed others.