Acts 5:27-32, 40-41; Rev 5:11-14; Jn 21:1-19
A husband read an article to his wife about how many words women use a day 30,000 to a man’s 15,000. The wife replied, “The reason has to be because we have to repeat everything to men. The husband turned to his wife and asked, “What?”
(The story is from an unknown author)
The risen Lord asked Simon Peter “Do you love me more than these?” Peter replied, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” When Jesus repeated the question two more times, the disciple was hurt but continued to say, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Ordinarily, commentators would say that Jesus asked Peter the same question three times in order to give the latter a chance to redeem himself. Peter was challenged to commit himself again to the Lord the same number of times he denied him.
Some scholars, however, have another way of explaining why the risen Lord had to repeat the question “Do you love me” to Peter. They explain that in Greek, there are various words for the English word “love”. One is philia, which is a devotional kind of love. An example of philia is the admiration that we have for deserving individuals such as our parents, siblings, friends, teachers and idols. Another Greek word for love is agape, which is a self-sacrificing and unconditional type of love. We have agape when we love a person without conditions or selfish interests. Likewise, our love is agapaic when we show readiness to lose one’s life for the sake of the beloved. The question “Do you love me” was asked three times because Peter did not respond fully well. In the original text, the risen Lord asked Peter, “Agapas me?” or “Do you have agape love for me?” He wanted to know whether or not Peter would love him without reservation or would be willing to sacrifice his life for him. But Peter simply answered, “Philo se” or “Yes, Lord, I have philia love for you.” He was declaring great devotion or admiration for the Lord, but he couldn’t promise him heroic love. After his notorious denial of Jesus during the trial in Jerusalem, Peter could no longer say, “Lord, I will die for you.”
The risen Lord was hoping that Peter would change his mind and so he asked him a second time, “Agapas me?” But again the disciple said he only have philia love for the Lord. Not wanting to humiliate Peter, Jesus finally asked him, “Do you have philia love for me?” And Peter replied, “Yes, I have philia love for you.” In the end, the risen Lord went down to the level of Peter and accepted what he can commit at the moment. Nonetheless, he prophesied that the disciple would develop an agapaic love and would one day give his life for him.
We know that the prophecy concerning Peter was proven true. The first reading narrates how Peter and the other apostles faced courageously the persecutions directed to them by the Jewish authorities. Repeatedly, they were strictly forbidden to preach about the risen Christ and to teach in his name. But Peter and company were determined to obey God, not any human authority (Acts 5:29). They were imprisoned and fiercely whipped, but “they rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of Jesus” (Acts 5:41). Tradition holds that all apostles of Jesus, except John the beloved, suffered and died as martyrs. Peter himself was crucified upside down. He did not only feed Jesus’ flock; he gave his life for them.
During the season of Easter, the question of Jesus “Do you have agape love for me?” is directed personally to each one of us. The Lord would like to know whether or not we love him selflessly and unceasingly. It is nice to be with Jesus when everything is going fine, when life is comfortable, or when fortunes and blessings keep coming. But what happens when our faith is tested, when our Christian life is becoming rough, or when persecutions come our way? Like Peter, we might find it difficult to promise the Lord agape love. Even so, Jesus remains confident that sooner or later we would develop the same kind of love that finally led the apostles to give their life totally for the service God.
It was a Sunday morning in South America, in a little chapel on the border of Venezuela and Colombia. As Mass was beginning, not uncommon occurrence took place: a band of guerillas armed with machine guns came out of the jungle and crashed and banged their way into the chapel. The priest and the congregation were totally horrified and afraid. The men dragged the priest outside to be executed. Then the leader of the guerillas came back into the chapel and demanded, “Anyone else who believes in this God stuff, come forward!” Everyone was petrified. They stood frozen. There was a long silence.
Finally, one man came forward and stood in front of the guerilla chief and said simply, “I love Jesus.” And he was roughly tossed to the soldiers and also taken out to be executed. And several other Christians came forward saying the same thing; they, too, were driven outside. Then the sound of machine gun fire. When there were no more people left willing to identify themselves as Christians, the guerilla chief returned inside and told the remaining congregation to get out. “You have no right to be here!” And with that he herded them out of the chapel, where they were astonished to see their pastor and the others standing there.
The priest and those people were ordered to go back into the chapel to continue the service while the others were angrily warned to stay out “Until,” said the guerilla chief, “You have the courage to stand up for your beliefs!” and with that the guerillas disappeared into the jungle.
(The story is by William J. Bausch in A World of Stories for Preachers and Teachers)