I really need to be careful what I say in my homilies, because my siblings stalk my website and podcast every week to hear what I said. While I wish I could say they were interested in what I said, they really only want to know if I said anything about them. For example, a couple of months ago, when I mentioned that I was disgusted with my sister for wanting to watch the Bachelor over the National Championship, well let’s just say that wasn’t pretty for me. Recently my families group chat has been dominated by pictures of my new nephew which is a welcome relief from all the other garbage that goes through those groups, yet at the same time it drives me nuts because every time my brother or sister – in – law post a picture all 10 of my siblings feel the need to like or comment on the pic. I mean come on we all know he’s cute and we all love seeing the pictures, but we do we really have to comment 10 times on the picture?
When we hear today’s Gospel you may be sharing in a little bit of that frustration, I have with my family’s group chat. After all, how many times does Peter have to tell Jesus that He loves Him before He gets it? Well unlike my siblings who all have to say the same thing 10 times, Jesus is not actually saying the same thing each time He asks Peter if He loves Him and while it may seem a little tedious, if we want to really understand this exchange between Jesus and Peter we are going to have to take a moment and take a look at the original Greek text.
If we go back to the Greek, we see that the first time Jesus asks Peter, if he loves Him, Jesus uses the Greek word agape and 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 describe 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 Peter if he loves Him, Jesus asks Peter if He loves Him with that total life-giving love and Peter responds by saying, yes Lord, you know that I love you as a friend. And again, Jesus asks 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.
If my siblings were watching tis conversation I’m sure their commentary would go something like “just say yes and get this over with.” But there is something to be said for Peter’s honesty and while Jesus certainly desires that 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 Peter do you love me with that philo love; do you love me as a friend and Peter responds, yes Lord you know I love you as a friend. Jesus is content with taking what Peter can give Him, for in meeting Peter where he is at; Jesus is able to shape Him into who He wants 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 Peter’s martyrdom. 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 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? Will we give Him the opportunity to raise us up?