15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” 19 (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”
There are various interpretations of Jesus asking Peter three times “Do you love me?” In ancient Greek, there are four different words for love. And a recent Super Bowl ad did a good job of explaining what these four types of love are (you may also be familiar with these four loves through C.S. Lewis’s book, The Four Loves).
Interestingly enough, when Jesus asks Peter the first two times whether he “agape loves” him, both times, Peter answers with “phileo love.” The third time, Jesus asks the same question with Peter’s understanding of the word, with “phileo love.”
By this time, Peter’s feelings are hurt. We are not sure if it is because Jesus asked the same questions three times (and almost pettily foreshadows Peter’s three denials) or if it is because Jesus changed the word from agape to phileo. We don’t know, but it is something interesting to think about.
Regardless of the meaning behind the different usage of the Greek words for love, the season of Lent is a time to reflect on the following questions.
Again, Jesus asks each one of us, “Do you love me?” I pray that during this season, we face this question as we would face a crystal-clear mirror.
This post is an adapted excerpt from Minoo Kim's sermon from 3/1/2020.