“On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.” John 20:19 – 20
For forty days after the Resurrection of Jesus, Jesus would appear to those around him and show them that he was indeed alive. Jesus would feed his disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he would redeem Peter’s denial of knowing Jesus by asking him three times, did he love him. He would give his disciples the Great Commission, to go and teach and preach to all the world and then Jesus would ascend into heaven.
There are a number of stories about Jesus after the resurrection but the one I think I love the most is Jesus’ reinstatement of Peter. They have just finished eating. It seems that some of Jesus’ best work is done around eating. Anyway, they have just finished eating when Jesus turns to Peter and asks: “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these? And of course Peter’s response is: “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” And to this Jesus says: “Feed my lambs.”
Jesus will ask this same question and get the same answer one more time. The third time Jesus asks there is a significant change but we don’t see it in the English language. Peter is hurt that Jesus is even asking yet a third time if he loves Jesus. And after the third time, Jesus seems content with Peter’s answer and goes on to tell him what his ministry and even his death would look like. Peter’s lot is not the same as John’s the beloved disciple as we will also learn. I encourage you to read the 21st chapter of John to learn the entire story.
But for our purposes today, I want to focus on the interchange between Jesus and Peter. There is, as I said a significant word change that we see in the Greek but not the English. You see in the Greek language there are four words for love and each one has a different inference. Jesus is asking Peter if he “agape” loves Jesus. Agape love, means that we have chosen to love someone not because we are attracted to them or even have any feelings toward them but because we love them in a way that is sacrificial and it is a love that unites and heals. We see this love through Jesus’ actions on the cross where the love (agape) Jesus has for all humankind is a love that saves and restores all humanity from our sins. It is an extra-ordinary love.
But what about Peter’s response? Peter responds to Jesus that he “phileo” loves Jesus. Philo is the Greek word for brotherly love. It is where Philadelphia gets its name. It means that we have a tenderness toward someone. We are a friend to someone because we have friendly feelings toward that person. It has been said that phileo love is of the heart and agape is predominately of the head. So, that means that Peter truly loves Jesus but not as much as what Jesus is asking of Peter. They have this exchange once more before Jesus asks a different question…
Well, again, we can’t see the difference in the English language but in the Greek, the third time Jesus asks Peter: “Simon, son of John, do you love (phileo) me? Peter responds: “You know all things; you know that I love (phileo) you.”
Jesus knows that Peter loves him. Jesus knows that Peter will at some point in time in the future “agape” love him. But right now, Peter is able to phileo love Jesus. And so, Jesus meets Peter where he is in that moment. It is a beautiful passage as it show us not only how much Jesus love us but that he is willing to meet us exactly where we are in life.
Where are you, right now in your spiritual journey? In this season of Eastertide, the time after Easter and before Pentecost, take some time to think about your life, especially your spiritual journey. Are you drawing closer to Jesus? Are you stalled? What do you need to do in order to answer Jesus’s question to Peter for yourself by saying, Yes, Lord! I agape love you!