When Jesus and his disciples had finished eating, he asked, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than the others do?” Simon Peter answered, “Yes, Lord, you know I do!” “Then feed my lambs,” Jesus said. Jesus asked a second time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter answered, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you!” “Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus told him. Jesus asked a third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus had asked him three times if he loved him. So he told Jesus, “Lord, you know everything. You know I love you.” Jesus replied, “Feed my sheep. (Joh 21:15-17)
The classic story told of how Jesus lovingly approached Peter after peter rejected Him three times in order to forgive him and restore him. Jesus questions Peter three times, since Peter rejected Jesus three times, and then tells Peter than he will die in service to Jesus.
I never had reason to question this story, at least not when I first heard it. A couple of years ago in a religion class I heard the story told a different way. A visiting pastor/instructor brought the Greek in to the equation in order to show a different take on the story. The first two times Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him, he uses a form of the word agape. The last time Jesus asks, He uses the word phileo. All three times that Peter responds, he uses phileo. Agape is widely taught to represent the true love of God, so by Peter not being able to commit to that degree of love is a big thing. When it was explained, I was told that Jesus was trying to show Peter the level of commitment needed but he kept responding with a lower form of love. On the last question, Jesus asked if peter even phileo Him which made Peter weep. Jesus in this story took a condescending tone with Peter.
Awhile back, I heard another take on this story, this time from N.T. Wright. Wright stresses the same words being used, but he has a kinder more loving approach to the story. In the last question, Jesus knowing that Peter can not commit to the level that Jesus was asking the first two times, comes down to the level of commitment Peter is at. Jesus wants to meet the person where they are at in order to lift them to the level where He wants them to be. I held to Wright’s view on this more than the other one I was taught. Jesus is always lifting people up, so the condescending view seems false.
Lately thought, I have been looking at the word agape. It is sold to us as this pure love that can only come from God, but we see that is not true. The same word is used to display how men love the darkness, so why would we have God’s love toward the darkness if He tells us to turn to the light? It does not make sense to me. I have moved from the place that agape means God’s true love, but it is a way in which God loves us. Not a manner based on emotion, but rather a love of the will. God chose to love us so He sent His only begotten Son. He was not required to do so, but He chose to do it.
Last week, working on another post I came across this:
Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. (Rev 3:19)
Love here is phileo, which means to be a friend or to have affection for. So not only does God agape us, he also phileo us. I started to see how the agape love is the basis of the relationship that we have with God. Salvation comes from the agape that God shows to us, but we are supposed to move on to the phileo and have a personal relationship with us. Not a distant God but one who has affection for us.
Looking back at the interaction Jesus had with Peter, I see it differently now. Peter was responding back to Jesus that his love for Him was not just agape but deeper than that. He had affection for Jesus. After each pronouncement, Jesus told him what it takes to have that relationship. Look after my children. Tend to them as a leader and care for them the way I care for you. Jesus was neither condescending nor having to come down to the level that Peter was on.