3rd Sunday of Easter
As you may know St John’s Gospel was written in Greek. Now in Greek there are a number of words for love two of them are Agape and phileo.
Phileo means an inclination towards someone, something like a close friendship, a strong affection; We might translate Phileo as brotherly love.
The other word is Agape. This word means the love which involves sacrifice and giving and being for the sake of another. In His Gospel St. John uses this word Agape when he says God is love, he uses it too to describe the Love shown for us by Jesus on the cross. Agape means loving with the love that God loves us with, a love revealed on the cross by Jesus.
Now in the English translation three times Jesus says do you love me? And three times Simon Peter says yes I love you. Making up for his threefold denial of Jesus perhaps, perhaps a three fold strengthening of his love. True enough. But in the original Greek there is suggested a further level of teaching, of revelation of the loving patience and care of Our Saviour and of encouragement to us all who must grow in love.
When Jesus first asks “Simon son of John do you love me more than these others” he uses agape. “Simon do you love me with that self sacrificial love which can be compared to the love of God which I have revealed to you by my cross and resurrection? Agape. Peter replies “Yes Lord you know I love you” but he uses Phileo not Agape. “Yes Lord I have a brotherly love for you” Phileo. So a second time Jesus asks “no - Simon do you love me (agape)? But again Simon replies Phileo “Yes Lord with a brotherly love”. So the third time that Jesus says “Simon do you love me” – he uses Phileo.. “Simon do you love me with a brotherly love?” “Yes lord” says Peter with a brotherlylove.
It is beautiful, the Lord is saying to Peter, that great apostle, the first leader of the Church on earth, the first Pope, do you love me with the sort of Love with which I love you, but at the moment Peter doesn’t understand or is unable to respond ‘yes’. His response is “yes Lord we’re friends”. So Jesus with such patience and love accepts this and the third time says ‘Simon are you my friend’ to which Peter can reply ‘yes I am’.
But Our Lord knows all things, and St. John writing his Gospel wants future readers, us, to know that Peter grows into this love. He moves from Brotherly love to the love revealed by Christ, from Phileo to Agape. Eventually Peter will be able to answer not just Phileo but “Yes Lord Agape, I love with your love”. And that is the prophesy. “You will stretch out your hands, and someone will put a belt around you and take you where you would rather not go. Peter’s martyrdom, the call to the cross, the only place in the end where we are able to learn to love with the love of agape which leads to resurrection, happiness and eternal life.
Its a really important part of all the resurrection appearances of Jesus and of our own meeting with the risen Jesus now, in others, in the sacraments, in the scriptures at prayer and especially in the Eucharist where all these meetings come together. Jesus himself with great patience and understanding moves us slowly to discover his love for us and to deepen our love for him.