Wednesday, April 27, 2022

John 21:1-19 part three


John 21:1-19 part three

Breakfast eaten, Jesus asks Simon Peter, ‘do you love me more than these?’ More than these what? I have often heard it taken as ‘do you love me more than you love these other disciples?’ or ‘do you love me more than these other disciples do?’ but that won’t do. Jesus insists that the generative command to ‘love God with your whole and undivided self’ begets the command to ‘love your neighbour as yourself’: these two commands are consubstantial and indivisible. What then? In the preceding verse, we are told that this is now the third time that Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead. Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these precious, fleeting moments? Here is the commission of Jesus, who will soon return to his Father, to the one who will pasture and shepherd his flock after and under him.

Twice, Jesus asks, do you love (agapas) me? And twice, Peter responds, Lord, you know that I love (philō) you. The third time, Jesus asks, as Peter has already twice answered, do you love (philō) me, and Peter again affirms that he does. What’s the difference? Agapas has to do with choice: with choosing that which is best for the other, whether it is our preference or not. Choosing to let them go when we would hold on to them. Choosing to lay down our life for them when we would prefer to carry on living, with them, as before. Philō has to do with emotion. We do not choose our emotional reactions, though we do choose how we will behave in response and can train our responses. Peter has an undeniable deep emotional affection for Jesus, though when overwhelmed by the emotion of fear he had repeatedly denied even knowing him.

‘Will you choose to let me go, over these times together?’ ‘You know the depth of my affection for you.’ ‘I do; but will you choose to let me go?’ ‘Lord, you know the depth of my affection.’ ‘Do you hold me in deep affection?’ ‘It hurts that you need to ask; you know that I do.’ Jesus doesn’t push the choice of love beyond where Peter is willing to go but meets him where he is. Nonetheless, whether Peter is willing or not, Jesus will return to the Father, and Simon the fisherman will need to become Peter the shepherd. And in old age he will again have no choice, will be led out to die—on a cross—and the sheep will be faced with the same dilemma, whether they are able to let go of the shepherd they hold with deep affection, or not. For now, it is enough to follow.


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