Reflections on the Readings
Third Sunday of Easter - April 18, 2010, Year C
By Dennis Hankins
The Sacrificial Love of the Heart
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?"
It happened after the singing of the final hymn.
"Our minds already reeling from the startling and sacrificial words of our Master and now he says this."
Still rehearsing in their hearts the sacred actions, each of the disciples question way down deep where questions form, "How is the Passover fulfilled in him?"
"How did that go again? What did he say? What did he do?"
"Well, Jesus took and blessed the bread and said, 'Take; this is my body.'"
And the cup, what about the cup?
"Well, he took the cup and gave thanks and gave the cup to each of us to drink saying, 'This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.'"
"Then we sang a hymn and making our way to the Mount of Olives Jesus spoke again to us."
"I understand, but what did he say? Why are you troubled? Come on Peter. Talk to me."
"Jesus said to us, You will all fall away; for it is written, 'I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.' But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee."
"Then what happened?"
I said, "Even though they all fall away, (as he pointed to the others) I will not." Then Jesus said to me, "Peter, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times."
Then I vehemently said to the Master, "If I must die with you, I will not deny you! All of us to a man swore allegiance to the Master."
And today, Peter huddles close to the warm fire when Jesus asks, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these," as he gently nodded toward the other disciples. Clearly Jesus is holding up the mirror to help Peter see himself. Just a few days ago, while warming himself by a fire, Peter profusely and adamantly denied three times any affiliation with the Son of God.
Now, three times Jesus asks Peter, "Do you love me?" Twice, Jesus uses the Greek verb agapao and lastly the Greek verb phileo. Both are Greek words for love. The word agape carries a meaning of selflessness; a freely given and sacrificial love. It describes the depth and meaning of true relationships. For example: For God so loved (agapeo) the world that he gave his only begotten Son.
Peter responds all three times with the word phileo. This is a warm and affectionate friendship. It describes a type of attraction for someone: such as the tight knit friendship between best of friends.
Does Jesus settle just for Peter's friendship? Peter grows restless. "Lord, you know everything; you know that I (phileo) love you."
The force of the repetitious question, 'do you love me?' reveals Jesus' intent to completely restore Peter. And the repeated mandate, 'feed my sheep,' reveals Jesus' desire to deeply plant his calling in Peter. Denial came from deep inside of Peter. Deeply our Lord reached into Peter, the one called to love and to serve the sheep.
No doubt, Jesus is asking for a deeper commitment; a deeper and sacrificial relationship. Jesus describes the ultimate meaning of this for Peter, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. Church history tells us that Peter, like his master, was crucified. Peter asked to be fastened to his cross upside down.
Sacrificial love. I've seen that kind of love. My daddy sometimes worked two jobs to make ends meet for his family of six children. He worked all day, and then painted other peoples houses till the sun set.
Sacrificial love. I watched my sister, Mary Rose Hankins, upon completing graduate studies in piano, suspend her life and career to help our mother. Mary Rose helped daddy care for mommy and her needs until the amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease) claimed her life.
Sacrificial love. Anyone witnessing the birth of a baby knows the depth and almost indefinable sacrifice a mother makes at such a time. No wonder there is such a bond between a baby and its mother.
Jesus is asking you and me if we will give him our heart and with our heart serve him in our brothers and sisters among us.
It's not just Peter's calling.
Let us pray: Dear Father, you gave the sacrifice of love, even your only Son, our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.