What does it mean to love someone? It is hard to capture in English what Christ is asking Peter in the Gospel today. Greek, the language in which St. John composed his Gospel, has many words for love, two of which John employs here – “agape” and “philia.”
“Philia” is a love of deep friendship, the kind held by two brothers in arms who have just emerged victorious after a harrowing battle. It means loyalty, self-sacrifice, and a sharing of emotions. It is far beyond the misuse of the word “love” so commonly found in our culture – “I love pizza” or “I love dancing.” But it still isn’t “agape.”
“Agape” is the deepest form of love, a totally selfless love that is a complete gift of yourself to the other – a love that always puts others first. It is a love that only God can live to its perfection.When Christ asks Peter if he loves Him, he is asking if Peter has “agape” love.
Peter responds, “Lord, you know that I love you with philia love” – brotherly, comrade love. Christ repeats the question and Peter repeats his response. Then the third time, John tells us that Peter is distressed when Christ repeats his question.
After Peter twice responding that he has philia love for Christ when the Lord asks if he has agape love, Christ asks him, “Do you love me with philia love?” Peter is startled and distressed because the question has changed.
He is distressed by Christ seemingly stooping down to his level, accepting the limitations of his feeble love and making it clear that He loves Peter despite his weakness, despite his inability to love in the way that God loves.
Christ meets Peter at his level, but notice what happens next. He immediately calls him to something greater – precisely to agape love. He foretells how Peter will glorify God with his death – his hands stretched out on a cross like his Master, only upside-down, upon his insistence that he was not worthy to do in the same way as Christ.
He will imitate the self-giving love of the Savior, loving with the agape love that he was afraid to profess there at the lakeshore.The Peter we see just several weeks later in the book of Acts is not the same hesitant Peter we see in the Gospel of John.
This Peter is bold, telling the Jewish leaders, “We must obey God rather than men” when they are ordered not to teach in the Lord’s name. (Notice, by the way, that Acts refers to “Peter and the Apostles.”
The primacy of Peter, continued by his successors, the Bishops of Rome, is an Apostolic and Biblical doctrine, contrary to what you might be told elsewhere. Peter too is the one singled out by Jesus to tend His sheep. Peter is not merely the first among equals.)
He even “[rejoiced] that [he] had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name” of Christ.Holy Mother Church holds out this example of Peter’s transformation on this third Sunday of Easter because She wants us to know that Christ’s Resurrection, which we continue to celebrate throughout the Easter season, is meant to work a similar transformation in us.
How many of us, after all, are ready to tell society that we must obey God rather than men? How many of us rejoice to suffer dishonor for the sake of Christ’s holy name?So how, then, can we be transformed like Peter? What will make us the bold witnesses to Christ’s Resurrection that the Lord desires us to be? Where is our charcoal fire around which Christ will stoop down to take our imperfect love of him, and transform it, redeeming those times when we, like Peter, have denied him?
Firstly, we must recognize our own weakness like Peter did. Do we not so often pretend through pride to be better disciples of Christ than we really are? Do we not tell ourselves that we are pretty much good people, that we don’t kill people or steal or do anything that would earn you a spot on the FBI’s most wanted list, so we are pretty much guaranteed to go to heaven?
Do we not thus presume upon God’s mercy rather than humbling repenting as Peter did of the many ways in which we too deny Christ? How many of us turn away, at least in our minds, when Holy Mother Church and Her ministers challenge us with hard truths that are difficult for us to accept?
Secondly, in order to be transformed, we must worship God. The Book of Revelation presents us with a vision of many others who have been transformed as well: the countless number that surrounds the throne of God and cries out: “To the one who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor, glory and might, forever and ever.”
In order to be transformed into bold witnesses like Peter, and in order to experience the heavenly reward of those who have been faithful to the end, we must fall down and worship God rather than ourselves. In order truly to worship God rather than ourselves, we need to worship in a way that focuses on Him rather than us. This means that the most fundamental question about worship is not: “How do I want to worship God?” or “What makes me … feel … like I’ve really worshiped him?” “Or what makes
Continue Reading Here: Do you love me? | Father Gregerson