“Peter, Do You Love Me?”
During this time in history, after his death and resurrection, and before he ascended, Yeshua (Jesus) appeared to the disciples three times (John 21:14).
Just before the third time, John records that Peter went back to fishing (John 21:3).
To the casual reader, it may have appeared that he was just going back to fishing for the day. But there was something deeper going on in Peter’s heart.
He felt like dirt.
A little more than a month ago, he had denied the Messiah. Perhaps Peter had given up; perhaps he felt like he was no good and couldn’t forgive himself.
As he’s out in his boat, feeling like he’ll be nothing more than a fisherman, he hears a man shout from the seashore:
“Cast the net on the starboard side of the ship, and there you will find fish.” (John 21:6).
Like an inside joke, it was virtually the same “monster catch” miracle Yeshua had performed for Peter earlier in his ministry (Luke 5:4).
Once he realized that it was the resurrected Messiah on the shore, Peter was so excited that he leaped into the water and swam to him.
But on the shore came a deeply sorrowful scene.
John 21:15-17 records that Yeshua asked Peter, “Do you love (agape) me?” In other words, do you love me with a Divine love?
What we don’t see in most English translations is the different words for “love” used in this dialogue.
Peter could not bring himself to confess such undying selfless love (agape) after his denial. So, he responds with a different word for love, “phileo”, which indicates love like a friend.
Yeshua asks the same question again and gets the same answer from Peter.
But the third time, Yeshua turns the tables and asks, “Peter, do you love (phileo) me?”
You can imagine Peter’s humility when Yeshua asks the question this way, recognizing Peter’s faults, understanding his hesitation to make grand claims of undying love.
And yet, with only the promise of this “lower form” of love, Yeshua still has faith in Peter, inviting him to “feed the flock.”
Knowing the difference between “agape” and “phileo” in this passage gives us a wonderful picture of our Messiah.
At our lowest point, when we feel we have failed him, he still has faith in us to do his will.
Don’t you think that kind of understanding deserves our our very best efforts in return?