Simon, son of John, do you love Me?
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
By Father Mark Mary

In John 21, Jesus appears to the apostles, after His resurrection, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. The apostles had been fishing all night and had caught nothing. Jesus directs them to lower their nets again and they make a huge catch of fish. Peter swims to shore and Jesus asks him three times if he loves Him.

I have been to the spot on the Sea of Galilee where Jesus appeared to Peter and the apostles. It is a beautiful and natural setting. Nothing is built there except a small church. It is all very simple. I like that. It gives our imagination a little room to work with the natural scenery.

This moving passage always draws us in because we are personally interested in Peter, and here his heart is revealed. What is normally described as hidden and secret in a person is laid bare in Peter. He has stumbled and fallen, repented and is back with the Lord. Peter is very conscious of his betrayal, and you can almost feel his emotion as he professes his love yet again.

Jesus addresses Peter as Simon, son of John. He uses his birth namenot the title of Peter (meaning rock) that He gave him earlier in John 1:42. Jesus addresses him in a personal way, asking him about his personal love for Him. Maybe this is what draws us in, what fascinates us.

We know under it all, underneath whatever office, title, vocation or special work that we might be called to by God, what really matters is that we love the Lord. Love is so fascinating because it is what really drives us, what motivates us; it is what we are willing to sacrifice for. It is at the heart of a person and defines who he is. It reveals the depth of our lives, and what we have built our lives upon.

Do you love me more than these? Scholars debate whether these refers to the other disciples or to the fish and boats that make up the life of a fisherman. I think of it as simply a comparison to everything else. Jesus has to be first in our life, but, oftentimes, we fail to put Him first.

An unearthed boat in a museum from the time period of Jesus

In the original Greek, in which the Gospels were written, different verb forms of to love were used. The first two times Jesus questions Peter, He uses the word agapao. This word for love refers to a reverential love, a love willing to sacrifice, a love that is more objective and spiritual. The early Christians used this word to describe the evangelical love that Christ commanded His disciples to have.

All three times, Peter answers Jesus with a lower form of love, phileo. This is a love expressing personal affection, a love of friendship. The third time that Jesus questions Peter; He uses this lower form of love, phileo.

Certainly, Peter is reminded of the three times he denied being a disciple of Christ, of even knowing Him. We are told that Peter was distressed at the third question, and one can see in his responses a humility and awareness of his weakness. He no longer claims a higher love; he knows in his heart that he loves Jesus and he responds three times with a love that he knows he is capable of. He is forgiven and Jesus accepts His love.

For Peter to be entrusted with the flock he must love Jesus. He must be in communion with Him. The flock belongs to Christ, the Good Shepherd, and, to be a true shepherd, one must love Christ. Peter is to nourish the flock with the words of Jesus, the sacraments that He left us, and with love. The sheep are not objects to be used and controlled, for they belong to Jesus and are to be fed by Him through His ministers.

Peter reminds us all of our human weakness, and, yet, Jesus still has a plan for our life if we love Him. The miraculous catch of fish reminds us of the power of God and how He uses weak instruments. We are all part of His flock and fed by His love and forgiveness.

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