Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Following in Love

After the meal, Jesus begins a dialogue with Simon Peter during which the Lord entrusts Peter three times over with the care of his beloved sheep. In this passage the evangelist plays alternately on two different Greek verbs for ‘to love’ when Jesus asks Peter Do you love me? The first, agapao, refers to selfless love originating in God. The other, phileo, refers to the human love of friendship. By distinguishing the two loves and including them both in his questions to Peter, the Lord is in fact affirming the need for both divine and human love in a Christian heart. The love of God excludes no authentic form of love, and friendship too was created by God. To be vibrant Christians we must first be fully alive human beings! 

Jesus can now tell Peter everything. He does not remind him of his sin of denial and fear on the night of the Passion, but he reveals to him what awaits him, as if he were saying to him: ‘Yes, Peter, you were then young, full of life and enthusiasm, and at that time you decided what you wanted and you went wherever you wanted. But as you become old, you will no longer be completely in charge of yourself. You will be forced to get help. You will stretch out your hands and ask for others to dress you because you will not be able to do it alone, and you will be taken where you do not want to go.’ This is certainly a prophecy of the martyrdom that awaits Peter, of the form of death that will befall him when he is crucified and sheds his blood for the glory of God. But Jesus’ words are also a prophecy of a form of daily ‘dying’. What is Peter’s task in the end? Simply, to follow Jesus. Jesus’ final word to Peter is the same as the very first had been on the shores of this same lake: Follow me! Even in the decline of old age, in passivity, in failure, in having to surrender one’s faculties to others, we can always follow the Lord. Isn’t that exactly what Jesus himself also experienced in his Passion—being turned into an object, a thing, being manipulated and subjected to others who did with him what they wanted?

Such is the following of Jesus from which none of us can escape because a disciple is not above his Master, nor a servant above his Lord. This is an intrinsic part of the Paschal Mystery. But can we find our joy in being with Jesus in this way? And does our love for Jesus override all our other desires and fears? Probably none of us is there quite yet! However, the Lord knows it, and this is precisely why he will now give himself to us wholly and unconditionally at the altar—to make possible our endless communion with him in indestructible joy. Christ is risen!

 Photograph by Brother Brian. Excerpts from a homily for the Third Sunday of Easter by Father Simeon.