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.” A second time He said to him, “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 grieved because He said to him the 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. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go.” (This he said to show by what death he was to glorify God.) And after this He said to him, “Follow me.”
John 21: 15-19
(From the Eleventh Eothinon Gospel)
Christ is Risen!
We know that the New Testament, including the four Gospels, was originally written in Greek, and then translated into every language on earth. We also know the saying that many times, something “gets lost in translation.” There are many mistranslations in the Bible, which distort or don’t do justice to the meaning of many passages. And one of the most mistranslated words is the word “love.”
In English, we use the word love to say “I love my spouse,” and “I love pizza.” In the Greek language, there are different words for love. The word “Agape” is Christ-like love, where one is willing to sacrifice up to death for someone. This is the kind of love we have for our spouses, our children, and our parents, and perhaps even a very close friend. We do not use “agape” to describe our “love” for pizza. There is a word “eros” which is romantic love. The word “filia” is used to describe a friendship love. From “filia” we get the word “philanthropy.” And there is a concept of “attraction” in Greek, which is “mou aresi,” that something is pleasing to us. “Mou aresi” is what you’d use to describe how pizza pleases you.
So, in today’s Gospel passage, Jesus says to Peter, “Agapas Me?” Which means, “Do you love Me with Agape, that you would die for me?” Peter answers “You know that I love you,” but uses the word “Filia.” Jesus asks a second time “Agapas Me?” “Do you love Me?” And Peter answers a second time “I love you like a friend, with filia.” Jesus then asks a third time, “Filis Me?” or “Do you love me with filia, like a friend?” Peter is grieved the third time because of the redundancy. Of course, Jesus asking Peter three times has to do with the three times Peter denied Jesus.
We might think that Peter is grieved the third time because Jesus stops asking Peter if he loves Him with Agape and instead changes it to Filia. However, Peter doesn’t pick up on that. He answers: “You know everything, Lord, you know that I love You, (still using filia). Then Jesus, in His infinite mercy, doesn’t lash out at Peter and say “you still don’t get it. He says to Peter, “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go.” (This he said to show by what death he was to glorify God.) Indeed, Peter would show Agape for Christ, he would die for Him.
There is one other thing Jesus did in this conversation. He not only asked if Peter loved him. He directed Peter to do something with that love. He told him to “Feed my lambs,” “tend my sheep,” and “feed my sheep.” In other words, Jesus asked Peter to protect and to feed His flock.
Jesus asks each of us the same thing. He asks us to love Him with Agape, to give our life for Him. And He asks each of us to protect, feed, and GROW the flock. If Jesus is asking each of us, “Do you love Me with Agape, do you love Me to die for me,” then what is our answer—We love You like a friend, we like You like we like pizza, or we love You and are willing to give our lives for You.
Appearing after the Resurrection to Your disciples, O Savior, You gave Peter the tending of Your sheep as recompense for his love, asking him to tend them with care. Therefore You said: If you love Me, O Peter, feed My sheep, tend My lambs. He immediately displayed His affection and inquired about the other disciple. By their prayers, O Christ, preserve Your flock from ravaging wolves. (Eleventh Eothinon Doxastikon, Trans. by Holy Cross Seminary Press, 1991)
Do you LOVE (with AGAPE) Him?