Sunday, April 14, 2013

do you love me?

May my words be in the name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

You've probably all seen a film where a young woman and a young man who are getting romantically attached are out on a date; the evening is coming to a close; perhaps they have had an intimate meal in a restaurant, with candles on the table and sweet violins playing softly in the back-ground; he walks her home; the stars are shining in the sky; the moon is full; they are holding hands; they come to her door; he turns to kiss her; but before he can she says: 'do you love me?' And the young man hesitates; gulps; and mumbles something like: 'Gosh … ah … well, you know, I like you … I really do. I'm terribly fond of you. I am. Honestly'

We have a scene something like that in our Gospel reading today. The disciples are at something of a loose end. Jesus is back from the dead. But they're not sure what that means for them. So Peter says: I'm going fishing. And his pals say they're going too. So out in the boat they go; back to their old life. They're out there all night. And they catch nothing. And then in the cold light of dawn there's someone on the beach. He tells them to cast the net over the other side. And suddenly it's full. The boys know who it is of course: the Lord. Peter impulsively flings himself into the water and swims to shore, while the other follow behind in the boat, dragging the net behind them. Jesus has food ready: bread and fish, just like when he fed the 5000; and he blesses the bread and breaks it, just as before. They all know who he is, of course, even if they're afraid to say it.

And then, Jesus asks Peter does he love him. And Peter replies back that he does love him. And they do this three times. And the three times reminds us of the three times that Peter denied Jesus during his Passion. But there is a lot more going on here than just that, part of which we miss because we are reading it in translation. English has only one word for love; but Greek, the language in which the New Testament is written, has, believe it or not, four! Agape, philia, eros, and struge. Sturge can be translated as affection and refers to what we might call familial love, for example the love a parent has for a child; eros means romantic love or being in love; philia is the love we experience in friendship, or brotherly love of a deep and true kind. And then there is agape: this kind of love is different to the other three; it is unconditional and voluntary, self-sacrificing, and divine … the love that God has for us and the kind of love that we should have for God. When St John tells us in Chapter three of his Gospel that 'God so loved the world that he sent his only Son' the word used is agape; and when Jesus tells his disciples that they must love God with all their heart & soul & mind and love their neighbour as themselves he uses the word agape. There is, of course, a bit more to it all than the short version I'm giving you & if you'd like to know more of the nuance of it all, CS Lewis has a short book called the 'Four Loves' on the subject.

But I think I've given you enough to understand a bit more about the little exchange between our Lord and St Peter. Because the first time Jesus asks him does he love him, he uses the word 'agape.' But when Peter replies that he loves him he uses the word 'philia.' Jesus has asked him does he love him with an all consuming, self-sacrificing love, and Peter has said in reply that he loves him as a dear friend or brother; that he is 'fond' of him. And when Jesus asks him a second time, he again uses the word agape; and Peter again replies using philia

But the third time, Jesus changes from using agape to using philia … and Peter is grieved … not that Jesus asked him a third time did he love him; but that the third time he uses the word philia instead of agape … Peter knows he should love Jesus with the love that the divine is entitled too, but he does not; and Jesus' has underlined that with his third asking. But note Peter's answer; you know all things. Peter, knowing that he did not yet love Jesus as he should, did not dare to answer falsely and claim a greater love than he did have. And Jesus provides a kind of comfort then; because knowing all things, and knowing that Peter will grow to have the right kind of love for him, agape-love, and that he will prove it by his martyrdom, speaks prophetically of Peter's death … and then says to the man who denied him thrice, and thrice admitted that he did not love his Lord and Saviour as he aught, 'Follow me.'

A different response to that of the girl in the films, who usually follows her boyfriend’s failure to declare undying love with tears or a smack across the face or an angry slam of the door in his face. Jesus continues to hold the door open; even while he gently reminds us, as he did Peter, that we do not love his as we aught, he also gently continues to call us to follow him, so that the day may come when we give him the love that he deserves. In his grace, he helps us; so that when the day comes for us to meet with him face to face, we may truly tell him that we love him with every fibre of our being; and he may gently tell us: I know all things; and I know that you love me. Amen.

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