Do you love me?! Gospel reflection for 3rd Sunday of Easter
On this third Sunday of Easter we have a Gospel which many of us are very familiar with. There is the temptation to skip to the end and summarize. Okay, Peter betrayed Jesus three times, now the Lord asks him three times ‘do you love me?’ Reading in modern English, you may not get much out of it. However, if you look at the passage in the original Greek, it does make a difference. Basically, there are two different words translated as 'LOVE' in this passage. It may help to put the two original Greek words in place of the English words in the same 3 verses above. Notice the changes below:
John 21: 15 So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you agapao me more than these?" He said to Him, "Yes, Lord; You know that I phileo You." He said to him, "Tend My lambs." (note the two different verbs used by Jesus and Peter)
16 He said to him again a second time, "Simon, son of John, do you agapao Me?" He said to Him, "Yes, Lord; You know that I phileo You." He said to him, "Shepherd My sheep." (the same as above, two different verbs).
17 He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you phileo Me?" Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, "Do you love Me?" And he said to Him, "Lord, You know all things; You know that I phileo You." Jesus said to him, "Tend My sheep. ( Jesus uses the same verb as Peter).
If you look closely, you will see that there have been two Greek words inserted for the word "love" in the verses above. The two words are agapao and phileo. Looking at the Greek definitions of these two words, we see that agapao is a very special and deep kind of love. It means to love dearly whilst phileo- this is a friendly kind of affection. The main difference between agapao and phileo is that agapao is more of a heart love and phileo is more of a head love, a fondness.
Now read the verses again. You will see:
1. Jesus asks Peter, "Do you LOVE me more than these?" Peter says, 'yeah I like you Lord.'
2. The second time, Jesus simply asks, "Do you LOVE me?" Notice that Jesus lessens the level of love. Sigh... Peter still cowers and only responds... 'yeah I like you Lord.'
3. Finally, Jesus asks, 'Peter...do you like me?' And Peter agrees ‘yes Lord, you know that I like you’.
When it comes to the emotions involved in relationships between men and women, between us and God, there are a lot of grey areas, although, some are usually clearly defined. One example of the latter, is the way that most people can differentiate the feelings that they have for someone they like, and someone they love. Let’s take the relationship between a mother and her child. Naturally, your son would not say: ‘I like you, Mum’ – instead it is ‘I love you, Mum’. In this instance, the difference between love and like is that the emotion between parent and child is something that is unconditional. A child is born loving his or her parents, so the emotion is deeply embedded, and comes naturally.There is a joy in love as the new Apostolic Exhortation from Pope Francis, launched yesterday, reminds us. A link to the document can be found here and is well worth a read. The joy of love experienced by families is also the joy of the Church (AL 1).
All of us want to be reassured that we are loved by someone, that we are ‘loveable’. The world hungers for love. How many teenage (and not so teenage!) crises happen because one person is hoping that the other loves them whilst he/she just ‘likes’ them? Friendzoned! In the complex world of love, dating and relationships, readily admitting that you love someone may scare the other person away because it entails a long-term commitment. Liking someone means that you are happy being with that person, while loving someone means that you absolutely cannot bear to be without that person. As cliche as it may seem, liking gives you the proverbial ‘butterflies in the stomach’ but loving someone involves something much deeper than that.
Jesus, however, does not need to know that Peter loves him or even just likes him. He will continue onwards and continue to be Jesus anyways. He asks Peter to confess his love for Him because this is part of the criteria for being sent out as a disciple of the Good News. The mission requires a heart that is unconditional, that is willing to give everything without holding back. It has to be a heart that ‘loves’ and not just a heart that ‘likes’! Maybe Peter is still not ready to confess his total commitment to the Lord but that is okay.
The journey of handing our lives completely over to God often happens in fits and starts and we progress under the loving gaze of a patient God. There are lightbulb moments where everything makes sense and the Holy Spirit fills us with new insight. Then there are other moments where we sit in the ashes feeling worthless and broken. It is worth getting back up though because falling in love with the Lord is the greatest romance; searching Him out, the greatest adventure; finding Him, the greatest achievement; and being with Him, the greatest source of happiness. It might sound cringy but it is the truth and like any relationship, it has its ups and downs. It has to be worked at.
Today Jesus is asking you to love him, not just to like him. Afterall Jesus is not a Facebook status! The last words in the Gospel today are: "FOLLOW ME!" Are you up to it?