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Greetings to all who love to wander along the paths of the Holy Scriptures! The purpose of this blog is to share some of the insights of ordinary Catholics who have begun to delve into the mysteries of the Sacred Scriptures. Hopefully you will find these reflections inspiring and insightful. We are faithful to the Church, but we are not theologians; we intend and trust that our individual reflections will remain within the inspired traditions of the Church. (If you note otherwise please let me know!) Discussion and comments are welcome, but always in charity and respect! Come and join us as we ponder the Sacred Scriptures, which will lead us on the path into His heart, which "God alone has traced" Job 28:23.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Do You Love Me?

Sunday, May 5, 2019
A Reflection on John 21:15-17

By: Larry T. Smith

This Sunday we are presented with a familiar scene from John 21:15-17:

15 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.” 16 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.”
17 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.”

Three times in rapid succession Jesus asked Peter: “Do you love me?” Why did He ask Peter the same question three times? Most Christians will smile and answer that it was because Peter denied Jesus three times. And it is true that Peter vehemently denied Jesus three times, once even with a curse. But, if we let this bible passage go at that, we are in danger of missing out on an important insight into how God interacts with us individually, with all of his children, and that is the very essence of theology. But first, we need to explore the nuances of the ancient Greek language.

Modern Christianity defines agape as the love originating from God or Christ for humankind. In the New Testament, it refers to the covenant love of God for humans, as well as the human reciprocal love for God; the term necessarily extends to the love of one's fellow man. The word agape comes to us from the ancient Greek language.

The New Testament was originally written in ancient Greek (Koine Greek), which was translated into Latin, and then finally translated into English. In ancient Greek, as well as all other languages, different words can mean roughly the same thing. For example, the ancient Greek word φιλῶ or philos means love. Philadelphia is known to be the city of brotherly love; its name was derived from the ancient Greek word philos (beloved, dear). So, philos means love. The ancient Greek word ἀγαπᾷς or agapas also means love; philos is a very nice word, but agapas is a better word—a higher, more refined level of love. In this bible passage our modern bibles use the English word love in place of both philos and agapas, and sadly, we can easily miss out on one of the deeper meanings embedded in the dialogue between Jesus and Peter. 

As it was originally written in Koine Greek: “ Πέτρῳ ὁ Ἰησοῦς, “Σίμων Ἰωνᾶ, ἀγαπᾷς με. Which is translated: “Jesus said, Simon Peter  Son of Jonah do you love me (ἀγαπᾷς με)?” In other words, “Do you love me at the agapas level?”

Peter said, “Ναί, Κύριε, σὺ οἶδας ὅτι φιλῶ σε.” Which is translated: “Yes, Lord you know that I love you (φιλῶ σε).” In other words, “You know that I love you as a brother” (at the philos level).

Jesus asked three times, “Simon Peter Son of Jonah do you love me (ἀγαπᾷς με)?” And three times Peter would respond, “Yes, Lord you know that I love you” (φιλῶ σε, as a brother)”

Peter had been with Jesus from the very beginning, he watched Jesus heal Jairus’s daughter, he was with Jesus at the Transfiguration, accompanied Jesus at the Garden of Gethsemane, he had seen Jesus’ resurrected body, shared a meal with Him in His resurrected state; he knew that Jesus was not just a ghost or spirit, yet, all Peter could muster was, “Yes, Lord you know that I love you like a brother.” Jesus might have thought, “All right Peter, if that’s the best that you can do for now, I can work with that.” 

Did Peter ever reach the agapas degree of love for the Lord? His willing martyrdom at the hands of the Romans is undeniable proof that he did! Peter probably rose to that level of love for Jesus at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended on the assembled disciples in the Upper Room.

At the end of the day, ἀγαπᾷς με, agapas, agape, φιλῶ σε, or philos, what does it all have to do with us? Does it really matter? We could read this bible passage and be content with the idea that Jesus asked Peter “do you love me” three times because Peter denied Jesus three times. Still yet, we are left to wonder why the author of John’s Gospel wrote ἀγαπᾷς με for Jesus’ question to Peter and φιλῶ σε for Peter’s answer. Why not just write ἀγαπᾷς με (do you love me) for Jesus’ question, and ἀγαπᾷς σε (I love you) for Peter’s answer? Or, we can dive into the rich theology of John’s Gospel and discern a deeper meaning. And, if we do that we might come to the conclusion that regardless of where we are in our individual spiritual journey, Jesus will happily meet us there. Our state of sinfulness, disbelief, half-belief, complacency, sinfulness, or wretchedness doesn’t matter to Jesus; just for the asking He will meet us there, and He will say to us, “If that’s the best that you can do for now, I can work with that.”  And just as He guided Peter to agape, He will do the same with us. This how God works with his children individually—with all humanity. 

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