Friday, 8 April 2016

Simon Peter in the School of Love.

Easter 3
Year C                                            
 John 21:1-19

Jesus asks Peter – Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?

These ‘what’ exactly? More than ‘this’ life, represented by the items of a fisherman’s trade scattered around on the beach – these nets, these spools of braided line, these floats?

Or – do you love me more than these other disciples love me?
You, Peter, pre-eminent among my followers:
                      Do you love me more than these others do?

The question arising between a man and a woman or a parent and a child - 'Do you love me?' - might be playful or perhaps it probes at some perceived weakness.

Do you love me? (of course you do)
Do you love me? (I want to hear you say it)
Do you love me? (I suspect that you do not)
Do you love me? (I wonder if you know what that means)

I’ll roll the dice and will hold that:

1. When Jesus asked Peter if he loved him more than these that he was referring to the other disciples gathered with them on the beach.

2. He asks the question three times because Peter has denied him three times and;

3. That when he asked Peter whether or not he loved him he was wondering if Peter knew what that meant.

Because it is not clear that we always know what love means.

You'll have heard of the well-known “tussle” here in the conversation between Jesus and Peter:

Three times Jesus asks Peter whether he loves him and twice he uses the Greek word (agapao) which refers to the type of love which gives and sacrifices, a love which lifts up the beloved.  Peter keeps replying “Yes, Lord I love you” and uses the word (phileo) which is a more ordinary emotional attachment or affection.

You would expect that with the the second  time of asking Peter would have twigged that the repeated question with a particular word was meant to hammer him into shape but, in fact, it is Jesus who draws near to Peter and uses Peter’s inadequate word for love in his final question:  "Peter, do you love me?"

Peter has not yet fathomed the love that Jesus asks about.  Jesus, though, will begin in the place where his disciple stands and use the words that Peter can speak and know here in this School of Love which convenes on a Galilean beach.   It was the same way he encountered Thomas in the School of Faith which met behind locked doors in Jerusalem in last week’s Gospel reading.

Jesus starts where these disciples are but the lesson does not finish there..   The School of Love will carry on.  Peter will come to learn love’s meaning.  Jesus finishes with the words:   “Follow me”.