St John 21: 15-19
We are almost at the end of St John’s Gospel and we come to the final apparition of the Risen Jesus on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias (Galilee). The apostles after an unsuccessful night fishing, are encouraged to cast their net on the right side of the boat by Jesus, although initially they do not recognise Him This is similar to the passage in St Luke’s Gospel (Luke 5:1-11) when Jesus calls the apostles to follow Him after a miraculous draught of fish.
After eating with the apostles, Jesus publicly addresses St Peter with the question, do you love more than these? St Peter on Holy Thursday night had said publicly to Jesus, that even if these abandon you, he would remain faithful. St Peter is now given the opportunity to make atonement in front of the other Apostles and to be reconciled to Jesus. Jesus now calls him again to follow Him and confers the primacy that He had promised.
St John uses two different Greek words for love in this passage. He uses agapao (willing love, heroic love) and phileo (friendly affection love). St John uses agapao when Jesus asks Peter, if he loves him (willing love) and when St Peter replies, you know I love you, he does with phileo (friendly affection). The third time Jesus asks St Peter if he loves him, Jesus also uses phileo (friendly affection).
So what point is St John making by using these distinctions. Jesus calls all of us to the heroic, the sacrificial, the willing love, to that level of love, that He has for us. St Peter is not quite ready for that depth of love, when Jesus initially asks him. However, St Peter will reach that complete, profound love, at a later stage in his life. Jesus makes reference to that by mentioning at the end of the passage that you will stretch out your hands and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go.
We as Christians must also aspire to this kind of love and go beyond the friendly affection. Jesus expects that of all his followers. But Jesus is also patient and will wait until we are ready, when it is not just mere words or a good intention.