Sunday, February 20, 2011

Do You Love Me?

Do you wake up in the morning, longing to spend a day in his service?  Do you go to bed at night longing for the time that your exile on this earth will come to an end, he will welcome you into our eternal home, to be face to face with him, sharing in the unimaginable bliss and glory of his divine life, forever?  Are you so enthralled with him that his name--the name above all names--is always on the tip of your lips and you cannot help but tell others about him?

I found myself asking that question recently, on the occasion of a (very) rare morning where I did happen to wake up in that state of mind.  The reality, sadly, is that 90% the answer is no, I don't or no I'm not.  I wish it were yes, but I'm not quite there yet.  There are many days that I wake up with a thousand other things on my mind.  I've got a to-do list that's a page long before I even start writing it down, and the last thing I want to do is spend time in prayer and scripture, "being still and knowing that [he is] God."  Deep down inside though, I know that is what I need the most.  I need Him. No, more than that.  I need him as the center of my life, the center of my existence.  I want to be completely, achingly in love with him.  Sometimes I literally have to stop myself in my tracks, before being drawn into the morning routine, and force myself to sit down, like a child, to let that reality sink in.

The closing paragraphs of the Gospel of John, 10:15-19, contain a very powerful encounter between the risen Jesus and Peter, that show us the kind of love that Christ calls us to:

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?"  He said to him, "Yes Lord; you know that I love you."  Jesus said to him, "Feed my lambs."  A second time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?"  He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Tend my sheep."  He said to him the third time, "Simon son of John, do you love me?"  And he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep.  Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt to go wherever you wished.  But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go." (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.)  After this he said to him, "Follow me."

Three times Jesus asks Peter, "Do you love me?"  And with each reply that Jesus leads him to, Peter affirms what he denied as Christ was enduring the trial of his Passion.  But why three times?  Wouldn't Jesus be satisfied with one sincere, heartfelt affirmation of Peter's love?  That's where a key subtlety of this passage, that is lost in translation, comes into play.

In the original Greek, there are three types of love: agape (unconditional love), filia (brotherly love), and eros (passionate love, as between lovers).  God, who is Love, encompasses all three, but here specifically challenges Peter to the highest and most difficult of the three: agape.   He asks Peter, "Do you agape me?"  That is, do you love me unconditionally?  Would you go anywhere and do anything for me?  Would you spare nothing, even your own life, for my sake?  Peter, even having witnessed Christ's Passion, death, and Resurrection, still does not quite comprehend what is being asked of him.  He replies, "Yes, Lord; you know that I filia you."  I love you like a brother.  Jesus challenges Peter a second time, probing deeper, " you agape me?"  Again, Peter either does not comprehend or cannot allow himself, because of the sin-weakened will that we all have, to go that far.   Still, with each reply, Jesus challenges Peter to do his work.  He loves Peter so much--unconditionally--that he trusts him, a sinful man, to take up his work of building the kingdom.

Jesus asks Peter a third time, but this time his question is different.  Just as he did in descending from Heaven to live and die to redeem us, in the third challenge Jesus lowers himself to Peter's level: "Peter, do you filia me?"  This third time, Peter replies the same way, but Jesus follows with a promise, " will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go."  This promise is a foreshadowing of Peter's martyrdom, but more importantly, it is a testimony that he will learn to love unconditionally, even though he is not capable of doing so right now.  His martyrdom will be the ultimate testimony of that love.   He will be fully redeemed.

Jesus asks the same of us today, "Do you agape me?"  Are you willing to give your life for me?  Even if it is not by shedding blood, will you give up your daily comforts, preferences, and anything in your life that distracts your gaze from me?  Will you deny yourself, sacrifice your own happiness and pleasure and use your time and energy to serve me by serving others?  I for one am more like Peter in this passage than Peter being led to his martyrdom.  But I also cling to the promise that he made to Peter and that he makes real by coming down to us and giving us himself--body, blood, soul, and divinity--in the Eucharist and in the Sacramental life of the Church.  By the power of his Spirit, he slowly but surely is making his agape fully alive and active in us.  He is giving us the promise and gift of his eternal life and unconditional love, so that we might learn to live and love in the same way, so that in the end we might say with the eternal life he has given us, "Yes Lord, you know that I love you."


1 comment:

  1. I remember reading Fulton Sheen's explanation of that Gospel (agape, filia) and just being astounded. It was like someone turned on a light.