(A commentary on John 21: 15-19)
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus 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.” He then said to him a second time, “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 distressed that he 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.”(John 21:15-19)
To understand the exchange that occurs in today’s Gospel between Jesus and Peter, we need to understand the Greek word “ to love” has different meanings. “Agape” love is a total, self-sacrificial type of love – the type of love showed by Jesus. Then there is “Phileo” love – the type of love humans show to one another. Twice Jesus asks Peter if he loves him with Agape love and Peter answers, he does with Phileo love. So, on the third time, Jesus asks him if he loves him with Phileo love and Peter responds in the affirmative.
Even though Peter falls short of Jesus’ expectation, Jesus accepts Peter anyway and makes him the shepherd of the sheep. Jesus wanted the highest form of love from Peter, but Peter could only offer a lesser kind of love. But Jesus settles for second best. He still commissions Peter to be the leader of the early church.
Of course, Jesus is showing us the way that God loves us. God always calls us to more, always calls us to a higher level. But when we fall short, when we cannot reach that highest level, God accepts us anyway. God still commissions us to be disciples.
This is a very comforting message to us as we look at our own inadequacies. But from another perspective it is a challenging message, because the greatest commandment of the fourth Gospel is that we are to love one another as Christ has loved us. And if Christ has loved us even when we don’t rise to the highest level of his expectation, then Jesus is asking us to love one another in that same way.
How much frustration do we have in our life because the people in our life are not the people we want them to be? We want our leaders in the church and in government to be wise and to anticipate problems and to solve them before those problems hurt us. But very frequently those leaders fall short.
We want our spouse to be understanding and attentive. But many times, we experience him or her as harsh or preoccupied.
We want our boss to be creative and flexible. But many times, all that is asked of us is attention to routine detail.
If only our children would be more motivated; if only our parents could be less stubborn; if only our friends would be on time.
In matters large and small the people in our life often fall short of who we want them to be. And the message that comes to us from Jesus’ action with Peter is that we are still to accept them as the people that they are. We are to love them for the goodness that they offer us rather than criticize them for the goodness that they lack.
Criticism comes far too easily to too many people. Love does not come as frequently. Yet if we are to call ourselves followers of Christ, love is his greatest command.
Prayer of The Day
“Lord Jesus, inflame my heart with your love and burn away everything within it that is unloving, unkind, ungrateful ad not in keeping with your will. May I always love what you love and reject all that is contrary to your love and will for my life.”
Each of us, too, has had times when we haven’t been faithful to God, but no matter what our faults, Jesus wants to restore us to be capable of a love like his, of a total self-giving love in response to Jesus’ love for us. And he indicates to Peter and to us how to show it, by feeding his lambs and sheep, and tending his flock. In other words, the way we would demonstrate our love for him would be by sacrificing ourselves, by giving of ourselves, out of love for those he loved so much to die for. Jesus didn’t say, “Love me as I have loved you,” but “Love one another as I have loved you,” because our love for him would be shown in our love for his flock.