The Gospel for this Sunday is John 21:1-19.
1 The most important question
After the resurrection we have only very brief statements from Jesus. Each one is invaluable because it reveals what is most important. In the longer version of today’s Gospel, Jesus asks the most important question to the first of the Apostles. The original Greek text of the Gospel gives more depth to this question than the translations. So let’s take a look at the original version.
2 Key Words
When they climbed out on shore, they saw a charcoal fire.
Before we even focus on the key question, it is worth noting another important detail. Jesus asks Peter the question after he has prepared breakfast for the disciples over a fire of “charcoal” (anthrachia). This detail reminds us of another event at the fire. Before Jesus’ passion and death, Peter denied Jesus while warming himself at a fire also made of “charcoals” (anthrachia) in the courtyard of Annas (see John 18:18).
Simon, son of John, do you love (agapao) me more than these?
He answered him, Yes, Lord, you know that I love (fileo) you.
Jesus addresses Peter by the name he had before he became His disciple and rock: “Simon. son of John.” He asks him three times if he loves him. As many times as Peter denied Jesus. In this way, Jesus healed Peter spiritually of his betrayal. By repenting and professing love three times, Peter rebuilt a relationship with Jesus.
The information about what that relationship was is recorded in the words of the original Greek Gospel.
Jesus asks “do you love (agapao) me?” The word “agapao” means love that is capable of giving one’s life for a loved one, the highest degree of love. Peter replies: “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you (fileo).” The word “fileo” describes the love of friends, that is, not the greatest love. Jesus is not discouraged and asks again, but receives a similar answer:
“Simon, son of John, do you love me (agapao) more than these?”
Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you (fileo).”
This shows Jesus’ invitation not only to friendship, but to the greatest relationship of love. Peter, however, is as usual sincere and aware of his weaknesses, so he replies that he loves Jesus with the love of a friend. The Master accepts this and lowers himself to the level of a human being, and for the third time no longer uses the word “agapao,” but “fileo.”
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?” (fileo)
“Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” (fileo)
Although Peter’s imperfect love is enough for Jesus at this stage, Peter will mature into perfect love. He will lay down his life for Jesus in Rome.
At the site of Peter’s confession of love by the Sea of Galilee, there are stones in the form of hearts. They are not only a reminder of what once took place. They remind us of Jesus’ question to each of us: Do you love me (agapao)? Do you love (fileo) me?