This conversation between Jesus and Peter took place after Jesus’ resurrection, when Jesus has gone back to Galilee to find Peter. Peter was hiding. The three questions Jesus asks Peter must have been, agonizing for Peter, who at Jesus’ crucifixion had denied he as much as even knew Jesus. Denied three times.
Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” The Greek verb Jesus uses for “love” is agapan, which is a self-sacrificial love, a laying-down-your-life kind of love, it’s the love of the ultimate self-giving of one’s life, the very thing we understand Jesus offered in his death on the cross. That’s Jesus’ question of Peter: “Do you love me in such a way that you would offer up your life for me, just as I have for you?” Peter responds to Jesus, “I love you.” But Peter uses a different Greek verb for love. He uses philein, the kind of love we have for our close friends or mates. A better English translation of the word Peter uses in response is “fond.” Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me, the ultimate kind of love for me as I have shown for you?” Peter responds, “I am fond of you.”
Jesus asks Peter again, “Do you love me, the ultimate kind of love for me as I have shown for you?” Peter responds again, “I am fond of you.” Jesus asks Peter a third question: “Peter, are you fond of me?” Peter answers, “Yes, you know that I am fond of you.” And Jesus accepts that.
Jesus’ love for Peter is relentless. Jesus sees something in Peter – from the very first time Jesus met Peter until now, the very last time he meets Peter – that Peter did not see in himself. Jesus knew and accepted and made plans for Peter, far beyond what Peter could imagine for his own life. In the end, Peter became such an indomitable leader for Jesus that the Roman Emperor Nero was so incensed, he not only had Peter crucified, he had him crucified upside down.
What happened? What brought this turnabout in Peter? Two things. First, Peter had opened the door of his heart to Jesus, barely opened the door of his heart to Jesus – in Peter’s fondness for Jesus – and through that crack in the door, Jesus’ love for Peter took over. If you can’t love Jesus with your whole heart, love Jesus just a little or, rather, let Jesus love you just a little, as much as you’re able to receive his love. Jesus will love you on your terms, but – look out! – his love will consume you. Sooner or later, Jesus’ love will overtake you.
And secondly, Peter stopped his denials, his denials about himself. Peter said “yes” to his destiny. Peter surrendered the control of his life to Jesus. I don’t think Peter’s surrendering his life was particularly heroic, or even virtuous. It was simply taking too much energy for Peter to be living a false life. Peter needed to be real and he relented from all his resistances, from his character flaws, from his fears when he said “yes” to his destiny, because that was the only way to be real. And Peter died full of the love, the agape love Jesus had first offered to him.
Say “yes” to your life – what God has clearly given your life to be about. You will become real, you will become free, and you will be indomitable, absolutely indomitable. Your life will become a love.
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