Perhaps the most abused word in the English language is the word love. We claim that we love God, you love your spouse, you love your children, but we also claim to love our dog, we love chocolate and wouldn’t most of us say we love how beautiful the church looks today? Yet it is not really our fault that we use the word love all the time in all kinds of ways because it is perhaps the most ambiguous word in the English language. After all it is not wrong for us to say we love God or that you love your spouse, your children and your dog, and it’s not wrong for us to say we love chocolate and how beautiful the Church is, but if we stopped to think about it, I think all of us would admit that we love those things in different ways. I hope none of us would say that we love chocolate in the way that we love God.
This ambiguity involving the word love is something unique to the modern romance languages. The ancients understood that we can have many different types of loving relationships and so the Latin and Greek languages had many different words for love to describe those different types of love. While it may seem tedious, if we really want to break through the ambiguity of today’s Gospel and really understand what is going on in the exchange between Jesus and St. Peter we need to pause for just a moment and go back to the original Greek text.
If we go back to the Greek we see that the first time Jesus asks St. Peter, if he loves Him, Jesus uses the Greek word agape and St. Peter responds by saying he loves Jesus using the Greek world philo. Now the words agape and philo both mean love, but they mean radically different kinds of love. The word Greek word agape, refers to a total, life giving love; a love that is willing to lay down one’s life for another person. It is the word used to descirbe the love that God has for each one of us. The Greek word philo, on the other hand, is the love of a friendship. So the first time Jesus asks St. Peter if he loves Him, Jesus asks St. Peter if He loves Him with that total life giving love and St. Peter responds by saying, yes Lord, you know that I love you as a friend. And again Jesus asks St. Peter if he loves Him with agape love, the love God has for him, to which Peter again responds; yes I love you with a philo love, the love of a friend.
While in one sense it is tragic that St. Peter is unable to love Jesus the way that Jesus loves him, but there is something to be said for Peter’s honesty and while Jesus certainly desires that St. Peter, like all of us, love Him as He loves us, He doesn’t turn His back on Peter, rather He comes down to his level. So the third time Jesus asks St. Peter do you love me with that philo love; do you love me as a friend and St. Peter responds, yes Lord you know I love you as a friend. Jesus is content with taking what St. Peter can give Him, for in meeting St. Peter where he is at; Jesus is able to shape Him into who He wants St. Peter to be. This my friends is a powerful witness for each and every one of us, because it shows us that if we are honest, and willing to place ourselves in the hands of God, He will shape us into who He wishes us to be.
If we fast forward to the end of the story, we find ourselves at St. Peter’s martyrdom. St. Peter, who denied Christ three times and could only bring Himself to love God as a friend is converted throughout his life to the point that He freely choose to die with arms outstretched on a cross in love for God. While earlier in his life he could only love God as a friend, he ultimately loves God completely, giving everything including His life in love of God.
This short exchange between Jesus and St. Peter shows us that Jesus comes down to our level, to raise us up to His. No matter where we find ourselves in our relationship with God, He is their reaching out to us so it doesn’t matter what we may have done or not done in the past, it doesn’t matter how we feel our relationship with God is, because provided there is just a spark of faith, and we are will to hand it over to Christ, He can and will transform us into the person He intends us to be. Jesus wants us to come up to His level, but He is willing to stoop to our level, to bring us to His level, if only we are willing to face Him honestly and allow Him to work in our life.
Today’s Gospel challenges each of us to pause and honestly assess where we stand before God and then invite Him into our lives on our level asking Him to raise us to His level. It challenges us to ask ourselves how open are we to letting Christ work in our lives? Do we Him the opportunity to stoop down to our level so He can raise us up to His level or are we closed in refusing to allow God to work in our lives. My friends Jesus wants to come to our level to raise us up to Himself. Will we let Him?