Scripture: Lectionary 301. Acts 25:13-21. Psalm 103:1-2.11-12.19-20. John 21:15-19:
“Follow me!” These are the last words that Jesus speaks to Peter, the apostle. In doing so, he helps Peter renew the initial call to follow Jesus in his ministry. Now he will be led by Jesus for the rest of his life. He is strengthened by the Resurrection and the ultimate message about how Peter will die. It prepares him for his eternal life with Jesus.
We hear the dialogue in which Jesus asks Peter if he loves him. Three times he responds to the question. I do not think it is a confession of Peter’s denials of Jesus; rather it is a confirmation of the virtue that makes him a true follower of the Lord in all respects. The message of love is the message of the Johannine Jesus both in the Gospel and in the three epistles attributed to John. It never gets tired for the one being loved to hear that he or she is loved. Some commentators make a distinction in the use of the verbs agapao and phileo in this pericope (Scripture passage). That is not necessary. Both verbs can mean that deepest type of love possible between Jesus and his friends and apostles.
Jesus is confirming the love he has for Peter and offering the normal threefold emphasis that is characteristic of something important. The Bible often repeats things three times to bring home an important idea, message, or event. Love now is the central grace of Peter’s apostolic vocation as apostle and leader. It helps us the readers to strive for love in all we do for the Lord in our daily lives. Thus in this passage we can equate both forms of the verb love to mean the same type of love—intimate friendship and above all the spiritual love so often emphasized in the Gospel of John and the Johannine community.
Jesus tells Peter what kind of death he will suffer. It will be similar to that of the Master. Peter will live out the love of Jesus for the rest of his life—even when he is bound by someone else and no longer can accomplish his work as an active apostle. We all can take the passage as a way of preparing ourselves for the final days of our lives when we may be not able to move about. Whether we die slowly in a nursing home or while active or through an accident the love manifested in this dialogue in John is the type that will help us through those last agonizing or surprising moments. We all live this in a certain sense when we lose friends or community members who are very close to us and loved in a special way. Peter is a good model for us. He lived out these words of Jesus about love and remained strong in that love even at the hour of his death.
Our own following of Jesus is similar. We have received a call from Jesus to follow him as single, married, or vowed. Jesus has taken the initiative when it comes to the vocation we have and to the love we need to have. We must have both the love of friendship and the spiritual love Jesus is speaking about. In the end they are the same. Has not John said that we must love one another who we see if we want to say we truly love God whom we do not see? Amen.
Copyright 2013 Fr. Bertrand Buby, S.M.