And Jesus appeared to them: “It is the Lord!” and their life started changing.
There, on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias, Jesus, for three times asks Peter: “Do you love me?” And Peter answers: “Yes, Lord you know that I love you.” But why three time and getting three similar answers? Was it perhaps, that Peter was being given a chance to undo the damage he did by his triple denial of Christ?
I think that if one sees the original in Greek, one will realize that something else is happening. In Greek there are several words for the word “love” according to the type of love one is talking about. In this story from John’s gospel, there are two of these words used: ‘φιλειν’ (philein) meaning to love someone as a friend and ‘αγαπαν’ (agapan) to love asChrist loved us, in a heroic way.
Jesus first asked Peter: ‘αγαπας με?’ (agapas me?) “Do you love me in a heroic way?” and Peter answers: ‘φιλω σε’ (philo
se.) “I love you as a friend.” The second time happened the same. The third time Jesus changes his question and asks: ‘φιλεις
με?’ (phileis me?) “Do you love me as a friend?” and as before Peter answers: ‘φιλω σε’ (philo se.) “I love you as a friend.”
That is what Peter could offer: to love him as the friend he had known for three years. Jesus, out of his tender love and concern about Peter, steps down, as it were, to accept what Peter had to offer at that particular moment. Jesus shows us the same tender
love and concern, and he accepts us with what we have to offer.
In Peter ‘the love as a friend’ eventually developed into ‘heroic love’ but first he had to stop going back into the past and let himself be dragged into the future. The same should happen in us: we have to stop going back to our old life of sin and let ourselves be dragged into the future by the grace of God.
Before us stands Peter, a humbler and wiser man, with a crowing rooster by his side. He is a contrite Peter who was touched by Christ’s compassion and forgiveness. This picture should remind us about our reality: we are sinners, but through the mercy and love of God redeemed sinners. If the compassion of Christ extends to him it extends to me too. If Christ trusts him to feed his lambs, his sheep, he trusts me too. And Christ is always compassionate. Christ always loves. Christ always extends his the hand of forgiveness.
Peter’s confession of love is also Peter’s cry for help: Lord, I love you; help my lack of love. This should also be our cry for help to Jesus: “Lord, I love you, help my lack of love.”