One Monk of the Order of Saint Benedict

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The Word of God and the Body of God reveal each other -- the homily worships both.

April 22, 2007

For the Third Sunday of Easter

John 21:1-19

In this Gospel, there seems to be an agreement between the Lord and Simon Peter concerning the question of love.
However, if we look at the original Greek words in this Gospel, we find instead a disagreement between Jesus and Simon.
The Lord uses one word for “love,” while Simon answers him with an entirely different word, thereby AVOIDING the Lord’s question.
In the original Greek, the Lord asks Simon, about agápe, a word that Scripture always uses when speaking of GOD’S love— as in “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son”— or “He loved them unto death.”
Agápe is a love that dies to itself, pours itself out for others, gives itself away, empties itself, surrenders itself, and sacrifices itself.
Simon Peter avoids the question about THAT kind of love.
Instead of answering with the agápe that Jesus asks for, Simon chooses to answer with philía— a word for a different kind of love.
Simon’s word, philía, refers to “benevolent attraction”, “kind affection”, “esteem” or “appreciation.”
With this understanding, now we can see what has REALLY taken place in this Gospel incident.
First: the context.
At the Last Supper, Simon had said, “Lord, I will lay down my life for you.”
Instead, after the authorities arrested Jesus, Simon lied publicly three times, saying that did not even know Jesus.
And now after the Resurrection:
Jesus appeared to his disciples again,
and when they had eaten their meal,
he says to Simon Peter,
“Do you LOVE—
do you surrender your life for me—
more than these others do?”
Simon answers,
“Yes, Lord you know that I APPRECIATE you.”

Hearing Simon change the language and dodge the question, the Lord yanks him back to reality by commanding him, “Feed my lambs!”— “Surrender your life in the care of my flock.”
A second time the Lord asks the question,
“Do you love—
do you surrender your life for me?”

Simon again avoids the question by answering again, “Yes, Lord, you know that I APPRECIATE you, that I LIKE you, that I FEEL good towards you.”
Once more the Lord yanks Simon Peter back to reality by commanding him, “Tend my sheep!”— in other words, “Surrender your life in the care of my flock!”
Then: the Lord changes his tactic.
He comes down, he condescends, and he stoops to the level of Simon’s mere affection.
For the third time the Lord asks Simon a question; but this time the Lord says:

This time, the Lord has not asked, “Do you LOVE— do you SURRENDER YOUR LIFE for me?”
This time the Lord borrows SIMON’S own limp choice of words, and asks Simon, “Do you APPRECIATE me?”
And what is Simon Peter’s reaction this time?
The Gospel carefully reports:
Simon was distressed that Jesus had said to him this third time,
“Do you APPRECIATE me?”

Simon’s answer to this third question is not substantially different from his other replies.
However, this time, since the Lord has pinned him down right where he is, Simon’s reply is now honest.
Lord, you know everything.
You know that I merely APPRECIATE you.

Once more, the Lord refuses to leave Simon Peter at the level of mere feelings of affection.
Jesus commands Simon, “Feed my sheep!”— ”Surrender yourself in the care of my flock!”
You and I, together with Peter, you and I now approach the Risen Lord in his Flesh and Blood.
The Eucharist— the Lord’s sacrament of surrendering his life for the care and feeding of his sheep— the Eucharist is the Lord’s own act of self-sacrificing love.
It is an act of love that invites our reciprocation.
It is an act of love that asks each of us, “Do you love—do you surrender your life for me?”
And what shall we answer?
If today we shall dare to receive Christ’s Body broken for us and his Blood poured out for us, let us also dare to follow him in speaking his own loving self-sacrificing “Amen” to the saving will of the Father.
Yes, Lord, you know very well whether or not we really love you.

That God Be Glorified in All