Friday in the Octave of Easter – May 29, 2020

Our reading today, from the last chapter of John’s gospel, is a familiar one.   Simon Peter encounters the risen Jesus on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.  Jesus asks him, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ ‘Yes Lord’, Peter answers, ‘you know that I love you.’  Jesus asks him again, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ and again Peter answers, ‘Yes Lord, you know that I love you.’  Jesus then asks him a third time ‘Do you love me?’  Peter is surprised that Jesus would ask him a third time.  Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you!

When you read the entire gospel (the way it was meant to be read) you would probably get to this passage and recall what happened just a couple chapters earlier.  Peter went into the courtyard of the high Priest after Jesus was arrested.  Three times Peter was accused of being a follower of Jesus, and three times he denied it.  Peter was so distraught, he went out and wept bitterly.  When you consider these passages together, it quickly becomes apparent what Jesus is doing in our reading today.  He is rehabilitating Peter!  After denying Jesus three times, Jesus gives Peter three opportunities to affirm him; to boldly proclaim that he is in fact a follower of Jesus!  As it turns out, the ‘rehabilitation of Peter’ is one of the most common interpretations of this passage. 

But, what I love most about sacred scripture is that there are layers and layers of meaning in every passage, in every word.  We can never exhaust the meaning of God’s Word; we can never understand it fully; it just keeps giving and giving…and this passage is no exception.  There is another profoundly beautiful meaning to this passage that you and I would never get just by reading it (because we don’t speak Greek, the original language of the New Testament).  If we did, we would notice the different words for ‘love’ that Jesus and Peter use in their dialogue.  While we have only one word for ‘love’ in English, the Greeks have four (storge, eros, philia and agape).  Listen to it again:

The first time Jesus asks Simon Peter…Simon, do you ‘agape’ me?

Peter replies…Yes Lord, I ‘philia’ you.

The second time Jesus asks him…Simon, do you ‘agape’ me?

Peter replies…Yes Lord, I ‘philia’ you.

The third time however, Jesus asks him…Simon, do you ‘philia’ me?

And Peter replies…Yes Lord, you know that I ‘philia’ you!

Friends, I will have to save the deeper meaning of this passage for another time, but for now I challenge you to go out and find this deeper meaning for yourself.  Learn what the different Greek words for love mean, and maybe this mysterious meaning will start to become clear to you…and maybe, just maybe, this little search for meaning will be the very thing that awakens in you a hunger to know the Word of God better.   If Jesus appeared to you on the beach and asked you…do you“agape’ me?   How would you answer him?  Do you ‘philia’ him, or do you ‘agape’ him? 

+ Deacon Shane