“Do you love me?” Jesus asks…” Perhaps the third time to hear this asked of me carried a message I had failed to grasp. How many times will he ask this of me? I wonder. “What is it that he needs to hear from me? Jesus laid down the stick he had been holding, moved closer to me as if to engage me in deeper conversation. The ground underneath where I had been seated created a slight discomfort in my back and legs. I looked away momentarily, slightly intimidated by the stern gaze of Jesus; and then, back at him. I sensed that there was more that Jesus wanted to help me understand. After a brief silence, Jesus looked directly into my eyes and said, “Consider the people I have put in your life, Paul, as a trusted servant of mine. I have called you to feed them with my Word, to tend to them as the shepherd of a flock, to give yourself to them in ways that meet their spiritual and emotional needs. But what have you learned through them? It is not always what you give them spiritually, how you encourage them, or the confidence you give them to press on with their lives. It is also a matter of how I am using them to shape you into the person I have created you to be. Some have left your side, some are still with you, and others may be in far away places. But each life carries within it a nugget of truth that you need for your spiritual edification. As you continue on your faith journey, Paul, lean over and pick up that nugget as if it is a stone lying in your path. Look at it, roll it around in your hand, feel the smooth surface, consider its size, its color, its shape. No two stones are the same, Paul. Like people, they all have their unique characteristics, but within them lay an element of truth that I will teach you. You cannot open that stone and see what is inside, only I can do that. So it is, Paul, with the people in your life. The truth is not what you see on the outside, only that which is inside, in their heart. If you love me, Paul, you will feed and tend to my people. But you will also learn from those whom you least expect.” I was so captivated by the words of Jesus that I lost all thought of my surroundings. His words were more intense, more direct.
He then asked me to do one more thing. “Close your eyes, Paul, and think deeply about what I have just said to you,” Jesus said. “What is it that you need to know about my grace, my mercy, my peace or my love that you have not come to experience? Meditate deeply on this, Paul.”
For a couple of minutes, my audible perception noticed nothing but the sounds of the elements, the waves quietly breaking upon the shore, the gentle rustling of the leaves from the grove of trees behind us, a cool breeze softly brushing against my face. And then it happened. I felt the comforting hand of Jesus resting on my right shoulder and with words ever so soothing he said to me, “Open your eyes, my child.” I opened my eyes, looked up and there before me and all around me were ephemeral images of people Jesus had put in my life over the years. Some had left this world; others remained. Among them were my mom and dad, my grandfather from Massachusetts, aunts and uncles, former school teachers, Sunday school teachers, pastors, and friends who had been so much a part of my life. An ineffable joy overtook me that words could not describe. I looked all around trying to take it all in. Each one that I looked on brought a multitude of memories. Soon, another strange manifestation caught my attention. Among the many recognizable faces stood several vague human figures not at all recognizable. I gazed and squinted my eyes trying as best I could to find some identifiable features in hopes of recognizing them. My efforts were futile.
Having given me the time to experience this, Jesus then turned to me and said, “Paul, these who you recognize are the people I have given you throughout your life to attend to you on your journey of faith; those who have been a godly example for you and have helped you understand who I am to and for you. The others whose faces you cannot distinguish are those I have yet to send to you. But you will know them when they come into your life as I have more work to do in you. And I will do it through them. This will be my way of breaking into your life with another revealed truth I have for you.”
The question each of us must then ask ourselves is: Can you and I afford to treat casually the people God puts in our lives without understanding the redemptive value He wills to bring to us through each of them? For every brother or sister in Christ shines in some way through the dark areas of our lives bringing forth rays of hope. And yes, as devoted followers of Jesus Christ, we know Christ as our Great Shepherd and we know the green pastures in which he maketh us to lie down as the lush “fields” where we meet the very people through whom he teaches us faith lessons, granting us spiritual nourishment to press on with our lives. Every new understanding comes as the light of God’s truth revealed in Jesus Christ. A daybreak, the dawning of a new and blessed day feeding and tending to us with the spiritual nourishment to sustain us on life’s faith journey and paving the way to eternal life.