Hay with an “a,” not with an “e;” but I hope to get your attention anyway. When one owns property in the country, it is necessary to do certain things to qualify for an agricultural tax exemption. One can raise livestock, grow fruits and vegetables, raise poultry, or grow crops such as wheat, corn, hay, etc. Every one of these things is expensive, but the assumption is that a profit eventually can be made. For example, the first year I moved to the farm, I bought a few calves in the spring, fattened them, and then sold them in the fall for a modest profit. The next year I lost twice as much as I made the previous year, so I decided I would not do that again. I tried fruit and pecan trees; but since the clay soil is not the best, I had little success with these, even though we did maintain a small vegetable garden for several years and shared the produce at our church. I have had some success with goats because they require so little effort and expense to maintain. They do require feed however; so the crop that has been the most successful for me is hay because it feeds our goats.

The great thing about hay is that you just let the pasture grow, cut it, then roll it up in bales or squares. Our third year was the best, as we harvested enough hay to make about 50 bales and I sold it all to one rancher. That has never been repeated, however. Usually we have 7 -10 bales and I will use that to feed the goats with no financial profit realized. In recent years I have had some difficulty getting someone to bring their equipment to cut, rake and bale such a small amount of hay. One who is in the business of hay-baling must make a profit too; so he does not want the expense of moving his equipment to property that will only produce a few bales of hay. He needs bigger jobs than mine. But maybe this year will be different and we will have a “bumper” crop of grass. Hay is excellent feed for my goats – they will eat any kind of grass since most grasses contain all the nutrients needed. With my tractor I will usually put one bale in the goat pen, let them eat on it for 6-8 weeks, then put another bale on top of that one. Hay is good feed for most animals and, of course, food is necessary to sustain life on the farm – or anywhere else for that matter! But I would like to talk now about another kind of feeding besides hay.

Before Jesus went away he spoke to Peter and said, “Feed my lambs”(Jn. 21:15). Then he spoke a second time and said, “Take care of my sheep”(Jn. 21 16). Finally, a third time he said, “Feed my sheep”(Jn. 21:17). Peter was a fisherman, and he had already been educated by Jesus in the art of “catching” men; but I’m sure he finally got the point of this pastoral discussion too. Most of the attention to this conversation centers on the questions Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you love me”(Jn. 21:15-17). The threefold question and the threefold answer correspond to Peter’s three denials of Jesus prior to the crucifixion. The great truth of this event is that no matter how great a person is, he may fall (1 Cor. 10:12); but God’s grace is sufficient. He will forgive and restore the repentant. Because of these verses in John 21, a controversy arose over Peter’s primacy in the church; but this idea seems to be foreign to the passage, preferring instead to refer only to John’s stylistic variations. My attention to this passage is much less complicated, because Jesus used a concrete illustration to a pastoral scene. Everybody knew what was meant to feed and tend sheep because that was one of the major industries of the day. Hay and good pasture were necessary to sustain animal life.

Peter was to feed lambs, shepherd sheep, and feed sheep. It seems to me Jesus is saying that both lambs and sheep need feeding and leading, and that is the job of the spiritual shepherd. What an awesome responsibility to shepherd God’s flock! Later, Peter wrote to fellow shepherds (elders), “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers – not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be…”(1 Pet. 5:2). There are enemies that want to destroy the flock, so the shepherd must be on guard (Acts 20:28-35). Sheep are sometimes ignorant and defenseless, in need of guidance and protection, and they also are prone to wander. Therefore, the Holy Spirit equips men to serve as shepherds (Eph. 4:11ff) in order to feed and lead the flock of God. According to the words of the Chief Shepherd (Jesus) in John 21, the most important thing that under-shepherds can do is to love Jesus Christ and show that love by example. We should earnestly pray for the spiritual pastors (elders) in our churches. At the same time individual believers are to help, care, and encourage each other as well.

When Peter was instructed to feed lambs and sheep, the question to ask by analogy is, “Feed them what?” The answer to the question clearly is the Word of God. The Bible is filled with metaphoric references to feed as it relates to spiritual sustenance. Jesus himself said, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’”(Matt. 4:4). John tells us that Jesus Christ is the living Word of God (Jn. 1:1-3, 14). The Word was with God, was God, and became flesh and lived among us. Astounding! Spiritually, Jesus wants us to feed on Him. He told us that he was the bread of life, the living bread. He said, “If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world… Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life…so the one who feeds on me will live because of me (Jn. 6:51-57). While obviously Jesus was not speaking literally, his words were pregnant with spiritual application. Believers continually are to feast on the living word of God. Symbolically, one way we do this is to take the Lord’s Supper together.

Before He left, Jesus told his disciples that they would have the important ministry of instructing others in His word. In addition to making disciples, He told them to “teach them to obey the things I have commanded you”(Matt. 28:20). They were to teach (feed them) the living Word of God; and they would have the benefit of spiritual instruction themselves. He said, “The Counselor, the Holy Spirit…will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have said to you”(Jn. 14:26). This is how pastors are to feed and tend the lambs and the sheep; and the process has continued on. The Apostle Paul (also a shepherd) told Timothy, “And the things you have heard me say in the presences of many witnesses, entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Tim. 2:2).

When one visits our part of the country, an inevitable sight is round bales of hay neatly stacked in a section of a pasture. Each bale represents food for livestock. The bales are rolled to maintain and preserve the complete nutritional elements of that particular grass. Similarly, the Bible, the Word of God is nourishing food for the soul. Jeremiah the prophet said, “When Your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight”(Jere. 15:16). The Word of God is referred to as “pure spiritual milk”(1 Pet. 2:2) and “solid food or strong meat”(Heb. 5:12,14). The Psalmist exclaimed, “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth”(Psa. 119:103). So, like hay, there you have it – a full course meal, complete with dessert – all provided by the living Word, the Lord Jesus Christ himself. He is our food and our drink – our bread of life (Jn. 6:35) and our living water (Jn. 4:14).