Saturday, April 9, 2016
Do you love me?
HOMILY FOR THE 3rd SUNDAY OF EASTER, April 10, 2016:
There is probably no greater question ever asked than “Do you love me?” It is a question that is full of anxiety, full of hope; it is tinged with vulnerability and speaks of our hopes and dreams. We hear this poignant question echo out from the Gospel today not once, but three times. “Do you love me?” Why does Jesus ask Simon Peter this question and why three times?
Certainly the three questions are a counter balance to the three times that Peter denies Jesus on the night of His Passion. But, there is much more going on in this passage. Simon is not merely overcoming a denial, but Jesus is both reconciling him and drawing him more deeply into the mystery of His love. If you didn’t pick up on all of that, part of the reason is some of the detail lost when translated from Greek to English.
In English, when Jesus asks “Do you love me?” and Peter responds, “Yes, I love you,” it all sounds the same, an even a bit redundant. But in Greek we find that Peter is not exactly responding to the question Jesus is asking him. In Greek there are many words that can be translated into “love” in English. There is eros, which refers to sexual or erotic love. There is philia, meaning pragmatic love, like the admiration and devotion we have for a worthy person or thing, such as love for a hero, love of parents, and love of art. Finally there is agape. This is the height of love. Agape is self-sacrificing, completely unconditional love, even for a person who may not deserve it and when there is nothing tangible to be gained. The clearest example of the self-sacrificing and unconditional love we call agape is found in the love that Jesus has for us, which made him give up his life for us on the Cross.
In our passage today, Jesus asks Peter, “Agapas me?” meaning “Do you love me in the complete and sacrificing way that I love you?” Peter knows that he has failed in this standard. He knows that he disowned Jesus in order to save his life. So, Peter does not answer in kind to Jesus. He answers, “Philo se” meaning, “Yes, Lord, you know how much I deeply admire you and how devoted I am to you.” This seemingly simple exchange is really a confession. Peter is saying to Jesus, “Yes, I love and admire you, but I have failed in loving You the way You love me.” So Jesus asks him a second time, “Agapas me?” and again Peter replies that he has philia love for him. Finally, Jesus asks, “Philas me? Do you have philial love for me?” And Peter answers “Yes, I have philia for you.” Jesus meets Peter where he is. He accepts what Peter can do understanding that this is a start.
We see in Peter we a wise, and humble man who doesn’t claim more than he can deliver. Peter's confession here can be likened to that of the father of the possessed boy who confessed to Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief!” What Peter is saying is “I love you, Lord; help my lack of love. Help me to love more, to love the way you love; help me have to completely giving love that you have.”
Today’s Gospel is so well-timed that it can’t be a coincidence. Pope Francis issued an Apostolic Exhortation on Friday called, “The Joy of Love.” It is long and fruitful exploration of love and family, but at the heart of it, I think the Holy Father is giving us a message similar to what we see in this Gospel exchange. That the ideal of love is powerful and godlike, but Jesus meets us where we are and encourages us forward. The Pope writes, for example, “Few human joys are as deep and thrilling as those experienced by two people who love one another and have achieved something as the result of a great, shared effort.” [#130]
We often profess our love for God; our love for Jesus. But, Peter challenges us today to realize that professing our love is only half of the story. The other half is the recognition that our love cannot reach its height and be a most powerful force in our lives, unless we invite and allow God to fill up in us what we lack. The Pope writes, “If we accept that God’s love is unconditional, that the Father’s love cannot be bought or sold, then we will become capable of showing boundless love and forgiving others even if they have wronged us.”
Today, we are invited to join St. Peter in his confession: “I love you, Lord; help my lack of love. Help me to love more, to love completely.”
Jesus tells Peter how to fill up that lack of love. “Feed my lambs...tend my sheep...feed my sheep.” Caring for others; expanding our own circle of love especially to those who need it most will help us love as Jesus loves. The more we do the things that Jesus does – without counting the cost - the more we will love like Jesus loves. We can learn to love more.
Jesus asks us today, “Do you love me?” What will our response be?
May the Lord give you peace.