Wednesday, June 27, 2018

No Substitute For Love

June 27, 2018 - Sts. Peter and Paul (transferred)

There are many synonyms for love, but there is no substitute. Affection. Romance. Devotion. Fondness. Enchantment. Fidelity. Infatuation. Ardor. Love.

After Jesus had been raised from the dead, after he had been crucified, after he had been deserted by his disciples and denied by Peter, Jesus met his disciples by the side of the sea. Early one morning, he showed himself to them and beckoned them to sit and eat breakfast with him. Then, as breakfast was ending, he took Peter aside and asked him, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?" And Peter replied, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you." And Jesus said to him, "Feed my lambs."

But that's not really what they said.

Jesus said to Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?" and Peter replied, "Yes, Lord, you know that I am fond of you...have deep affection for you like a friend." In the Greek New Testament, the word Jesus used was agape, but, in his reply, Peter used the word phileo. The former is the selfless, unconditional, never-failing love that God has for the world, but all Peter could muster was the love of a companion or friend. The love of a friend is a wonderful thing. One might even love his friends enough to lay down his life for them. But the love of friend and the love that God has for us is different. Jesus invited Peter to consider whether his love for his master was divine love, but Peter couldn't reciprocate or at least didn't think that he could.

And Jesus called him out on it.

Three times Jesus asked Peter about his love for him. The first time he asked, "Do you love me?" The second time he asked, "Do you love me?" But the third time he asked, "Simon, son of John, are you fond of me?" Jesus took Peter's word and gave it back to him. The biblical text struggles to convey the tone in this exchange, but to me it sounds like Jesus is asking incredulously, "Do you [really only] love me [like a friend]?" When Jesus used the word phileo to ask Peter about his love, it makes me wonder whether Jesus could see in Peter something Peter could not see within himself. It makes me wonder whether Peter was hurt not because Jesus asked about his love three times but because, on the third time, he switched from agape to phileo, bringing Peter to the edge of his own limitations.

What does it feel like to look the one whom you denied in the eye and hear him ask you, "Do you love me?" How piercing that stare must be! How wounding those words must feel! But Jesus does not speak to Peter to break him down or fill him with guilt but to free him from it. "Do you really think that the best you have for me is kindly affection? When I named you 'the rock on which my church will be built' and declared that 'not even the powers of hell would prevail against it,' do you think that the love of friend is what I saw in you?"

Feed my sheep. Tend my sheep. Feed my lambs. Do you love me? Feed my sheep. The work of tending the flock is fueled by our love for Jesus. And we cannot be the church of Christ if we do not love him as we have been loved--with the selfless, sacrificial, unconditional love that God has for us in Jesus. Jesus beckons us to come and feast with him. He pulls us aside and asks gently, "Do you love me? Do you know that you love me? Do you trust that you are capable of loving me?" Sometimes, when we have denied the love that God has for us, it is hard for us to imagine that Jesus could look at us and see within us the possibility of a love we have forgotten. But he does. He always does.

Hear Jesus asking you, "Do you love me?" And, in those words, hear him reassuring you that the answer is yes. Even when you cannot see it. Especially when you cannot see it. Jesus looks at you and sees the possibility of agape love. Why? Because that is the love that he has for you. And, once we have been loved like that, once we know that we are loved like that, we discover the freedom we need to love him and the world in the same way.

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