Jesus and Peter Have a Heart to Heart

Apparently commenting on the daily readings is going to become a theme.  Today, the gospel was one of my favorite bible passages.

From the Gospel of John 21:15-19:

After Jesus had revealed himself to his disciples and eaten breakfast with them,
he said to Simon Peter,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”
Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.”
He then said to Simon Peter a second time,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
He said to him, “Tend my sheep.”
He said to him the third time,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time,
“Do you love me?” and he said to him,
“Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.
Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger,
you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted;
but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands,
and someone else will dress you
and lead you where you do not want to go.”
He said this signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God.
And when he had said this, he said to him, “Follow me.”

The main thing that sticks out about this reading is the fact that Jesus asks Peter, “do you love me?” 3 times.  This is a powerful statement of redemption and proof that God can use anyone to accomplish His will.  Here Jesus gives Peter a chance to proclaim his faith and love after adamantly denying knowledge of Christ the same amount of times.  Jesus gives Peter a second chance.  Not only does he give Peter a second chance, he puts this fallen and broken man in charge of His Church.

I already loved this passage and then I found out something incredible that gave it deeper meaning and blew me away.  Unfortunately English falls short of conveying the meaning of some words.  Love is one of those words.  In Greek there are four different words for the different types of love: Storge, Philia, Eros and Agape.  Storge is the natural affection usually found between family members.  Philia is friendship and Eros is romantic love.  Agape, now that’s harder to define.  It is unconditional, charitable love – ultimately the love of God.

In this passage, Jesus is using the verb Agape for love.  Peter, either feeling ashamed of what he has done, or really not understanding what Jesus is asking, uses Philia for love.  He says that he loves Jesus as a friend, when Jesus wants his complete and unconditional love.  Here’s a good commentary on the passage, which expands on these distinctions.

This all points to the fact that each and every one of us has a unique and important role to play in God’s plan.  Some of the greatest people in the bible were ridiculously messed up and sinful.  No matter how broken you are, no matter how many times you have denied Christ, he simply asks you to “follow me.”  He’ll take it from there.

C.S. Lewis wrote about these types of loves in his books The Four Loves, if you want to learn more about the subject.

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