Do you Agape me?

What if I told you that there are three types of love?

At least that is true in the Greek language. At the time that the gospels were written the dominant language of the translations was Greek, so these three types of love are important. The Greek words for love are agape, phileo and eros.

For the purpose of today’s homily, we can set “eros” aside as it refers to physical love or lust. Which leaves the other two. Agape is the highest and purest form of love; it is divine love and is used to express the essential nature of God. Phileo is a lower form of love and often refers to brotherly love, hence the name for the city of Philadelphia, the city of Brotherly love.

My intention is not to turn today’s homily into a Greek lesson. Father Mariusz would never forgive me, a Polish lesson maybe but a Greek lesson, never. My intention is to set the stage for a second reading for a part of today’s Gospel. You see, while we heard the English version it was translated from the Greek and that might give it a slightly different spin. You see when Jesus asks Peter if he loves him, he uses these two different Greek words and initially Peter does not get the distinction.

For those of us that have come to love Peter, this should not surprise us. Peter always seems to be not getting something or missing the point about something. The first time that I saw Peter in the TV show the Chosen I was amazed that they cast an actor that had such small feet. I assumed that he would have huge feet because he always seems to be tripping over them or putting them in his mouth.

The events in today’s reading tell of a significant event in Peter’s life because, as it is noted, it is the day of Peter’s Conversion. Think about that for a minute. He followed Jesus for three years, saw Him cure people’s aliments with a word. He saw one person cured by just by touching Jesus’s tunic. And let’s not forget the time that the paralytic was lowered through the roof in the living room or what about the day that Lazarus rose from the dead and walked out of his tomb after three days.

Day after day, Peter saw amazing things. I mean, it seemed as though every time that Peter had a bad fishing night, Jesus would walk up, tell him to throw his nets back into the water and out comes so many fish that they almost sink Peter’s boats. (You know, nothing gets the attention of an avid fisherman like a boat full of fish). And even after all of that, this is the day, a couple weeks after the crucifixion and resurrection, this is the day of Peter’s “conversion”. And it all hinges on these two Greek words for love.

You see in verse 15 of today’s gospel (John 21), Jesus asks Peter if he agape’d him. He asks Peter if he has “divine” love for him and Peter responds that “yes”, he has “brotherly” love for him. So, Jesus asks him again, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Again, Jesus uses the word agape and Peter replies with the word phileo. So, Jesus turns the table on Peter and for the third time he says, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Scholars argue that here Jesus used the lower for “phileo” to goad Peter into a different answer to which, “Peter was distressed that Jesus 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.” Here they say was his conversion, because here he used the higher form to reply. Here Peter finally used the reference to divine love. Yes Lord, I love you as you love me. I agape you.

Isn’t it interesting that just over two weeks ago we heard Peter in a similar conversation with three separate people? Outside in the courtyard, while waiting for the guards to finish scourging, and crowning, a spitting upon Christ, Peter was asked three times if he loved Jesus, “Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house, and Peter was following at a distance. And when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat down among them. Then a servant girl, seeing him as he sat in the light and looking closely at him, said, “This man also was with him.” But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know him.” And a little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not.” And after an interval of about an hour still another insisted, saying, “Certainly this man also was with him, for he too is a Galilean.” But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.”

Not to be too down on Peter, he was not the only one to deny Jesus on that night. Remember both Peter and Judas denied Jesus. In very different ways but they denied him none the less. The difference was that Judas believed that his denial was so great that even God could not forgive him. Judas put his ability to sin above God’s ability to love. Above God’s divine love. Peter, on the other hand, in today’s reading says that he understands that, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” He basically says that “you know me”, you know my failures, my short comings, my imperfections and in return I have love for you. In return I have divine love for you. That was his conversion, that was his ultimate understanding of the difference between phileo and agape love.

So, how did Jesus respond? He said, “Feed my sheep”. This is not the typical end of sappy movie scene where Jesus says, I love you” and Peter says, “I love you back”. And then Jesus says, “No I love you more”, and Peter says, “No but I loved you first”. Instead, Jesus says if you have love for me, the way that I have love for you then turn that love and shine it on my people.

Now this should not be confused for when my wife asks me if I love her, and I say that yes I love you, and she say then “Edwin, son of Maria, wash my car”. That is something totally different. This is when Jesus says, “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.”

Jesus was telling Peter that this kind of love would lead to his hands being stretched out on a cross. And him being led to his own crucifixion and death.

“And when he had said this, he said to him, “Follow me.”
This was not the first time that Jesus said this to Simon Peter, but this was the first time that Peter understood and the first time that he said yes with divine love.

Easter is a time that we are called to examine the love that we have for our Lord. His love is the same. It started before time. It is personal, individual, and all encompassing. I started by explaining that Agape is the essential nature of God. It is the crucifix it is the eucharist.

On this day when we celebrate the conversion of Saint Peter Jesus asks each one of us, “do you love me?”

Sing praise to the LORD, you his faithful ones,
and give thanks to his holy name.

Alleluia.

JN 21:1-19

At that time, Jesus revealed himself again to his disciples at the Sea of Tiberias.
He revealed himself in this way.
Together were Simon Peter, Thomas called Didymus,
Nathanael from Cana in Galilee,
Zebedee’s sons, and two others of his disciples.
Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.”
They said to him, “We also will come with you.”
So they went out and got into the boat,
but that night they caught nothing.
When it was already dawn, Jesus was standing on the shore;
but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.
Jesus said to them, “Children, have you caught anything to eat?”
They answered him, “No.”
So he said to them, “Cast the net over the right side of the boat
and you will find something.”
So they cast it, and were not able to pull it in
because of the number of fish.
So the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord.”
When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord,
he tucked in his garment, for he was lightly clad,
and jumped into the sea.
The other disciples came in the boat,
for they were not far from shore, only about a hundred yards,
dragging the net with the fish.
When they climbed out on shore,
they saw a charcoal fire with fish on it and bread.
Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you just caught.”
So Simon Peter went over and dragged the net ashore
full of one hundred fifty-three large fish.
Even though there were so many, the net was not torn.
Jesus said to them, “Come, have breakfast.”
And none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?”
because they realized it was the Lord.
Jesus came over and took the bread and gave it to them,
and in like manner the fish.
This was now the third time Jesus was revealed to his disciples
after being raised from the dead.

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus 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.”
Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.”
Jesus said to him the third time,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was distressed that Jesus 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.”

May 1, 2022

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