An Occupational Challenge

John 21:15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.”

I’ve always been fascinated by the three calls of Jesus to Peter in persuading the former fisherman to pastor God’s people. Recently we received great ministry on this subject. And as I listened to God’s Word ministering to my heart, something new dawned upon me—what Jesus was asking of Peter must have been a difficult transition to make. I’ve often wondered why the Lord repeated the request three times. Was the man known as “the rock” strong-headed, needing the thrice repetition? It never dawned upon me that Peter was facing an occupational challenge—let me explain.

By trade Peter was a fisherman. From the Gospels we understand the man was married, having an unhealthy mother-in-law living with him and was responsible for his own home. In other words, Peter had cares of life and was mastering the call of responsibility to his obligations. No doubt he felt the weight of making ends meet; a day of unsuccessful fishing meant the proverbial less food on the table.

At the same time Peter was witnessing the ministry of Jesus. Since both men were living in Capernaum, Peter was well aware of the Savior and no doubt was already a disciple, learning and developing from Christ’s ministry. And then on one occasion, after a day of exceptionally poor fishing, Jesus used Peter’s boat to speak to the people while the fishermen mended nets and cleaned up. Jesus, upon finishing His message, requested Peter launch again into the deep for a renewed attempt at netting fish. After hesitantly answering, the expert fisherman complies and, to his surprise, is blessed with a catch beyond imagination—surely enough to provide resources for a long time.

And then came the call from Jesus to full-time work, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” After such a large catch, Peter was financially able to follow in the capacity the Savior requested. The man’s new mission in life was similar in occupation—“I will make you fishers of men!” Peter was familiar with that aspect. He knew how to fish and He could catch men by using concepts from the tools of the trade he was familiar with. Maybe that’s why Jesus used the occupation analogy to call Peter.

But now the risen Savior was asking something new, something Peter was skeptical about—tending sheep. He was not a shepherd; he was never trained to pasture any animal, much less feed them properly. Peter had absolutely no reference point for undertaking this new enterprise of caring for souls. “Fishing for men” he could do. He knew that trade. In fact, the risen Christ had just found him fishing again. But this tending of sheep thing—“feed my lambs” was a new occupational challenge. No wonder Jesus repeated the call three times for the former fisherman. Peter had to jump from fisherman to shepherd.

For any person needing to be retrained in a new occupation, the event is frighteningly filled with much insecurity. There is doubt and frustration, and questions of whether the future will work out. Peter faced his new enterprise by being cast upon the Savior for help. For the Lord to lead in new directions we may need repetitive reassurances—which He is more than willing to provide. However, it all settles into this one little statement for finding grace to help—Jesus asks, “do you love me…?” If the answer is yes, then in any change the Lord may ask of us we can find assistance for that occupational challenge.

J. Robert Hanson

Image provided by David Niblack and available at

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