[Jesus] said to [Peter] the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “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.” -John 21:17
Dear members and friends,
Love is the core of Jesus’ teachings in the Gospels. In a way, we could summarize that Jesus was born on earth to teach us two important truths: God loves us, and we are here to love each other. Thus, Jesus gives us two kinds of love as new commandments: love of God and love of neighbor.
In the Gospel of John, we find an unusual story where Jesus asks someone a question three times in a row. The question is, “Do you love me?” And, the person to whom Jesus asks this question is Peter. In John 21, Peter persistently and clearly answers Jesus by saying, “Yes, Lord. I love you.” According to John 21:17, Peter felt hurt because he was asked the same question three times! In English, Jesus’s questions and Peter’s answers have the same keyword: love. But in Greek, there is a big difference between Jesus’s questions and the answers given by Peter. For the first and second questions, Jesus uses the word “agape,” while Peter uses “philia” in all his answers. In other words, Jesus asks Peter if he loves him with agape, while Peter prudently answers Jesus that he loves him with philia. According to the Greek, agape means unconditional love that desires solely the well-being of the one who is loved despite the cost for the one who loves. Philia, meanwhile, means mutual love or brotherly love between equal beings. Jesus appears to expect that Peter would love him with agape, while Peter appears to not to understand the difference. For the third question, Jesus uses philia in asking Peter, to which Peter answers with philia. This unusual story reveals the truth that God created us to live with agape, but when we are incapable of such love, God came to us to show what agape means by meeting us where we are and accepting us as who we are.
My brothers and sisters in God, it is my prayer that the power of love from our Christ fills your heart in this season of Advent. Agape could appear at first to be burdensome and exhausting, but the truth is that our heart is created to be fulfilled by agape.
Blessings, Rev. Junchol Lee