Question: What did the Savior mean when he told his disciples to “Feed my sheep.”
Answer: The Savior called his disciples to become “fishers of men,” meaning that He called them to teach the Gospel to all who will listen. The Savior will help those who are trying to bring souls into the gospel net and unto the Father.
13 Jesus then cometh, and taketh bread, and giveth them, and fish likewise.
14 This is now the third time that Jesus shewed himself to his disciples, after that he was risen from the dead.
15 So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these (do you love me more than these fish)? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs.
16 He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep.
17 He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.
Note: There is symbolism here. Jesus told the apostles, when he called them, that he would make them “fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). The fact that the Savior helped them have such success with actual fish is symbolic of the fact that he will help them have great success in bringing souls into the gospel net and unto the Father.
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Elder Ulisses Soares, Of the Seventy:
On one occasion the Savior asked a question to Peter three times:
“Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. [Jesus] saith unto him, Feed my sheep.”
Because He was deeply concerned with the welfare of our Heavenly Father’s children, the Lord gave Peter the special charge of feeding the sheep. He reaffirmed this same concern in modern times through a revelation given to Joseph Smith:
“Now, I say unto you, and what I say unto you, I say unto all the Twelve: Arise and gird up your loins, take up your cross, follow me, and feed my sheep.”
As we study the scriptures, we notice that the Savior ministered to people according to their specific needs. A good example of this occurred when He was near Capernaum, and Jairus, a ruler of the synagogue, fell down at Jesus’s feet and pleaded with the Lord to come into his house and bless his daughter, who was dying. Jesus went with Jairus even though the crowd made it difficult for Him to move fast.
And then a messenger came telling Jairus his daughter was already dead. Even grieving as he was, Jairus kept his steadfast faith in the Lord, who comforted the heart of that father, saying:
“Fear not: believe only, and she shall be made whole.
“And when he came into the house, he suffered no man to go in, save Peter, and James, and John, and the father and the mother of the maiden.
“And all wept, and bewailed her: but he said, Weep not; she is not dead, but sleepeth. …
“… And took her by the hand, and called, saying, Maid, arise.
“And her spirit came again, and she arose straightway: and he commanded to give her meat.”
Jesus showed patience and love to all who came to Him seeking relief for their physical, emotional, or spiritual illnesses and who felt discouraged and downtrodden.
To follow the Savior’s example, each one of us must look around and reach out to the sheep who are facing the same circumstances and lift them up and encourage them to proceed on the journey towards eternal life.
This need today is as great as or perhaps even greater than when the Savior walked on this earth. As shepherds we must understand that we should nurture each one of our sheep to bring them to Christ, which is the purpose of all we do in this Church.
Any activity, meeting, or program should focus on this same objective. As we stay in tune with the needs of the people, we can strengthen them and help them overcome their challenges, so they will remain steadfast in the way which will lead them back to our Heavenly Father’s presence and help them endure to the end.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is about people, not programs. Sometimes, in the haste of fulfilling our Church responsibilities, we spend too much time concentrating on programs, instead of focusing on people, and end up taking their real needs for granted. When things like that happen, we lose the perspective of our callings, neglect people, and prevent them from reaching their divine potential to gain eternal life...
It does not matter whether it is a child, youth, or adult—everyone needs to feel loved. We have been counseled for several years to focus on working with new converts and less-active members. People will remain in the Church when they feel someone cares for them.
Among the last instructions the Savior gave His Apostles, He said:
“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.”
People are most receptive to our influence when they feel that we truly love them, and not only because we have a calling to fulfill. As we express true love for people, they will be able to feel the influence of the Spirit and may feel motivated to follow our teachings. It is not always easy to love people for what they are. The prophet Mormon explained what we should do if such challenges arise:
“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure.”
Christ Himself ministered to people, lifting the heavy laden, giving hope to the disheartened, and seeking after the ones who were lost. He showed people how much He loved and understood them and how precious they were. He acknowledged their divine nature and eternal value. Even when calling people to repentance, He condemned the sin without condemning the sinner.
In his first epistle to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul emphasized the need of expressing this true love to each sheep of the Lord’s flock:
“And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
“Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up.
“Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
“Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
“Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. …
“And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”
As we follow the Savior’s example and teachings, we can assist people to fulfill their earthly mission and return to live with our Heavenly Father.
Of this I bear you my testimony in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
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Sources: Come, Follow Me–For Individuals and Families, p. 99; The New Testament Made Easier, Part 1, Volume 2, by David J. Ridges, 327; General Conference, November 2005, “Feed My Sheep” by Elder Ulisses Soares, Of the Seventy.