“‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’”
This passage from John, which comes to us as the Gospel reading for today’s celebration of Holy Eucharist, is one of the more interesting and telling passages in Holy Scripture–in my humble opinion. Interesting and telling not because of the witty banter between Jesus and Peter (in fact there is little wit in this brief conversation); but interesting and telling because of how Peter and Jesus talk about love.
As Jamie Large, one of our two youth preachers on Youth Sunday a couple of weeks ago teased out for us, in English we have one word for “love,” which we apply to a number of different contexts. However, in Greek there are several words for love–much like how in Norwegian there are between 180 and 300 words for snow.
When you read this passage in the Greek you see that Jesus uses the word “agape” for the kind of love that he is referring to, and Peter responds with a version of “philadelphos.” Here is the quote above in the Greek:
Jesus uses “agapas” and Peter uses “philo.” The interlinear translation of “you are loving,” and “I am being fond of,” are correct. This puts this whole passage, and the force of Jesus’ words, into a different light. The agape love that Jesus speaks of is the all-loving, fierce, even to the point of tough love, love of God for all of God’s creation. Agape love is the self-sacrificial love of Jesus dying on the cross. The philadephos that Peter responds to Jesus with is the love of brotherhood, slightly-more-that-Facebook-friend, glad-you’re-on-the-team, Band of Brothers, kind of love.
God loves you with agape. Who do you love with agape? How do you show the love of God to those in your life? What do you do; how do you act; how would those who you love with agape know that you love them with that force, that magnitude, that depth? Today, find those whom you love with agape and tell them that you love them.
As the old blessing says:
“Life is short, and we do not have much time to gladden the hearts of those who journey the way with us. So be swift to love, and make haste to be kind. And the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be among you, and remain with you always. Amen.”
I always thought that the true believer falls in love with Christ. So that the love in that case would be a version of “eros.” But it is not the sex urge but the blood urge for passion is of the blood. In other words, Jesus would be really asking Peter: Would you lay down your life for me?
I had a friend in high school who was a first generation Greek immigrant (in Alabama!) who told me that reading the new testament in Greek made it entirely more real – more like a story told to friends – and that were all sorts of puns and multiple meanings that didn’t make it into English. At that age, I had pretty much been raised on the KJV and the “old” RSV and had not been through all the required college bible courses with their historical-critical approach. So, I really envied her. I’m sure the Greek she read was not the original Koine, but it was obviously much earthier than what I had been reading. This memory reminds me that so many who read scripture have never been introduced to the reality of the Bible having this “lost in translation” dimension. Biblical scholarship, archeology, and technology have continued to provide even more context and understanding as was so wonderfully demonstrated by Ellen Davis in her talks at St. A’s. While the Holy Spirit clearly works around this, I believe the richer context opens up a broader and livelier path to understand our evolving relationship with God through the ages, adding a more human aspect to the often one-dimensional portrayal of Bible characters. This seems a significant difference between the mainstream protestant churches and more evangelical churches. It has the same sort of feel to it as the science vs. faith issue. I think it shows how clearer understanding can lead to deeper meaning, wonder and awe. On the other hand, it can also confuse and possibly offend those looking for infallible “words of God.” To me, this is an example of how our identity as a “pilgrim church” leads us to consider all the alternate byways along the path of faith we walk together. This willingness to look at all sides and consider multiple meanings is one of my favorite things about St. Alban’s.