When, on the shore of the Lake of Tiberius, Peter encountered the risen Lord, he received the mission that set him apart from the other apostles, and he learned an important lesson in love. St. John recounts the event (proclaimed in this Sunday’s Gospel) using a specific play on words. When Jesus first asks Peter, “Do you love me,” he uses the Greek phrase agapas-me, meaning “do you love me totally and unconditionally” (John 21:15). Prior to his denial of Jesus, Peter would most certainly have responded agapo-se! Now that he has experienced his own fragility, he responds, “Lord, you know that I love you,” using filio-se (“I love you with a human love”). Once again, Jesus asks the fisherman, “Simon, do you love me with this total love that I want?” Peter again responds, “Kyrie, filo-se,” “Lord, I love you as I am able.” The third time, however, Jesus simply asks, “Fileis-me?” This time, it is not Peter who alters the verb, it is Jesus. Jesus places himself at Peter’s level rather than asking more than Peter is able to give. This gives Peter hope because he understands that his love, however imperfect, is enough for Jesus.
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