At that time, Jesus revealed himself to his disciples after he was raised from the dead, and he 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.” A second time he said to him, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to 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 grieved because he said to him the 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. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go.” (This he said to show by what death he was to glorify God.) And after this he said to him, “Follow me.” (John 21:15-19)
In the Gospel passage quoted above, we hear Jesus ask Peter, “Do you love me?” This is not an odd question for Jesus to ask of anyone let alone His Apostle and friend Peter. This event comes after the Resurrection and after Peter’s denial of Christ before His Crucifixion. in many ways this is Jesus trying to rehabilitate Peter for his prior disbelief.
The interesting thing about this passage however is the word love. In English we have one word love and we use it for everything. I love my spouse, and I love toast. It is the same word and some would argue one of the most overused words in English today. However in this passage, in the original Greek, Jesus uses the word, agape, when he asks Peter, “Do you love me?”
Agape is the highest form of this word. This is the all encompassing love that God has for His creation, this is the unconditional, sacrifice all for me kind of love that Jesus is asking here. Peter responds, “Yes Lord, you know I love you. Again, if we read this in English we miss what is happening here. Peter does not use the agape form of love but the philo form of the word.
Philo is the love that one might have with their brother, this is a lesser form of the word that Jesus has used. Maybe Peter misunderstood what Jesus was asking, or he knew what Jesus was asking and he was not ready yet. The agape love is one that develops through a maturing in the grace of God. Remember this is the highest form of the word love, this agape.
Jesus asks Peter again, and Peter responds the same way.
The third time Jesus asks this question he has changed the form of the word from agape to philo. Scripture tells us that Peter was grieved because He asked him a third time. Jesus lowered the sense of the word to meet Peter where he was. Peter realized this fact and was grieved because he was not able to love Jesus with His whole heart, mind, and soul. Not yet anyway.
Jesus asks each one of us, “Do you love me?” and He is using the agape form of the word. Do we truly love Jesus above all else or do we love baseball or football or our job or car or something else more. How many of you reading this today went to church to thank Him for all that He has done for you? He is asking the question, and I believe He like the answer that Peter gave, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.” Jesus is reaching out His hand to you, and asking you to take it and hold on. Jesus meets us where we are and helps us, through the church and her people, to grow in that love from philo to agape.
What is your answer to Him today?