Love One Another

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love [agapas] me more than these?”

He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love [philo] you.”

He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He then said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love [agapas] me?”

He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love [philo] you.”

He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love [phileis] me?”

Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time, “Do you love [phileis] me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love [philo] you.”

[Jesus] said to him, “Feed my sheep.”

John 21:15-17

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Love One Another

This scene between Peter and Jesus after the Resurrection has always fascinated me. Peter is so overjoyed to see Christ on the shore that he jumps from the boat and swims to meet him. The words they speak to one another are full of tenderness and misunderstanding, a depth of love that is hard to think of.

Agape and philia

In English, we have so few words to express love. We speak of “loving” chocolate cookies, friends, and God, as if those actions are comparable. Other languages are not so crippled. Greek, for example, has many different words, each describing a different aspect and context of what we would call “love”.

The oldest copy of John’s Gospel is Greek. In that text, the passage above contains two different words for love: “agape”, an unselfish and godly love, and “philia”, true friendly affection.

When Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me”, the first two times, He uses “agapas”. This is the love that is God and that God offers us. Peter responds that he loves Jesus, “philo”. He does not realize that Jesus is asking more of him, and he cannot yet offer more.

The third time, Christ uses Peter’s word, “phileis”, as though he is saying, “This love will do for now.” Peter’s distress will eventually hint to him that he must find a way to give more.

Do you love me?

St. Augustine, among other Fathers of the Church, interprets this passage in light of Peter’s denial of Christ during the Passion. Three times, Peter is nearly exposed as a friend of Christ’s. Three times he denies that he knows Him. (See John 18.)

After the Resurrection, on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias, Christ asks three times whether Peter loves Him. Peter must say he loves Him three times in order to make up for the three times he denied Him. In this way, Peter is shown what he must do to make up for his denials: “Feed my lambs… Tend my sheep… Feed my sheep.” If he loves the Shepherd, he must show love to the flock.

This love that Peter must show the flock does not come out of context. Jesus means him first to experience how easy it is to become right with God; profess love three times to make up for three denials. This is because God’s love, agape, is stronger than betrayal. Once Peter experiences God’s agape for him, he will go on to offer it to the flock.

As I have loved you

I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.
John 13:34

Occasionally, we are tempted to see ourselves as social workers, as if Jesus’ direction to “Feed my sheep” is nearly literal; the Church is just a big organization that provides food and other forms of ministry to the less fortunate of the world. Jesus loved them so we love them. But John reminds us that, to Jesus, that is only half of the story, and the second half at that.: “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.”

Before we can act in unselfish love, we must experience being loved by God with the perfect love, agape. Before we can help the the sick, the small, the possessed, the lame, the poor, the dead, we must see ourselves as the sick, the small, the possessed, the lame, the poor, the dead. Like these people in the Gospels, we must trust in Jesus’s goodness and ask for His healing touch. We must receive His love, the love that will heal our souls. Only then can we begin to show true, unselfish love to others.

The disciple whom Jesus loved

In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.
1 John 4:10

St. John is sometimes called the Apostle of Love. His Gospel and his three epistles have many passages reminding us of God’s love for us and Jesus’s commandment to “Love one another.” He also refers to himself in his Gospel as “the disciple whom Jesus loved”.

Thus we can see that, if we are to love others and bring them to Christ, as St. John did, we must first be the ones whom Jesus loves. May we never reject such love!

One thought on “Love One Another

  1. I never knew that there were two words used in that passage! I love (probably philio) that Jesus accepts what Peter can give him.

    Praise the Lord, who heals the broken hearted! He is near to those in distress, he raises those who are bowed down, and those crushed in spirit he saves. So, that is who we must be.

    Liked by 1 person

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