“Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Tend My sheep”…Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved…So Peter seeing him said to Jesus, “Lord, and what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!” – John 21:17,20-22
Jesus has a heart to heart talk with Peter. First of all, he allows Peter to confess his love for Him, to counter the thrice-denial the night before His death. The dialogue is more interesting in Greek text because in the English we cannot see the word used for love.
In the Greek, when Jesus asks Peter the first and second time if he loves him, Jesus uses the word agape (ἀγαπᾷς), an unconditional loving without return. Peter’s response is, ‘Yes, I love you like a friend’ (φιλῶ = philio). Peter cannot come to acknowledge his full unconditional love for Jesus. Seeing this, the third time Jesus asks if Peter loves Him, he meets Peter where he is at, and lessens his request of Peter, “Peter, do you love me like a friend (φιλῶ)?”, to which Peter’s heart is sorrowful. Perhaps he recognizes his love for the Lord is less than he thought. Perhaps he sees he is not as strong as he once thought he was (when at the last supper he said that even if all these deny you I will not deny you). Peter is led to see himself where he is, and yet, is entrusted to be the shepherd of Christ’s flock.
This is good news for us! Jesus will meet us where we are. When he calls us, we do not fit the bill as heroic disciples; we are fearful, calculating, insecure, and jockey for position to fill our ego. No, we are not perfected in our being called, but only our enduring journey to be faithful. And, at times, we can find ourselves looking over our shoulders at others and say, “What about that one, Lord?” In these moments, we feel the gentle rebuke of Jesus telling us to keep our eyes fixed on Him alone. This is the path of the real disciple, mature in his faith. Let us ask for the grace to be faithful, and when we fight with our imperfect living out our discipleship, may God’s grace flood in and turn our gaze back to Him alone.
May God bless you.