Do You Love Me? (Jn.21)

Do You Love Me? (Jn.21)

Love has to be a two-way street.  In this well-known saying the secret of the alchemy of love is expressed.  Love should not just be given; we should also learn to receive it.  Only through the interactive effect of both, giving and receiving, something new comes into being that neither of the two persons involved would have been able to achieve alone.  That is called alchemy: the beginning of a new creation.

Some people only want to receive love, and it is never enough.  Others can only give, so that you are buried under a superabundance, and there is no room left for you.  In the shadow of such people, endowed with a shining charisma, you may feel small and insignificant.

Christ gives a love that transcends all human ability to imagine it.  People who have experienced it themselves say: “His love knows exactly all I have done in my life, all I have done wrong—and in spite of that He loves me.  This is why Christ is called the teacher of human love.  But He not only bestows His love on us; He also asks each one of us:

“Do you love me more than the others?”

And when we, like Peter, are not capable of giving Him unconditional love, He asks more modestly: “Do you love me?”

And when we, like Peter, are also incapable of doing that, He finally asks: “Are you my friend?”

He does that for our sake, for in His love for the imperfect, even our deficient friendship is for Him an indispensable gift.

Love has to be a two-way street.  Can I give Him something?

Commentary on the text in John 21: 15-18

In many versions of the Bible the text is not correctly translated.  It looks as if the Risen One asks Peter three times almost the same thing: Do you love me more than these?  Do you love me?  Do you love me? (RSV) Moreover, in this translation it looks as if Peter gives three times the same answer as the question he was asked: You know that I love you.

However, in the first question Christ speaks of the highest form of love (Greek agapē): Do you love me more than the others?  Peter, who is not capable of giving this unconditional love, replies three times: You know that I am your friend. (Greek phileō) (Madsen: you are dear to me)

The second time Christ no longer asks for love “more than the others,” but for unconditional love without comparison to the other disciples: Do you love me?  Again, Peter can give nothing other than philia, friendship.

The third time Christ, knowing that this is all Peter is capable of, asks him for friendship.  That is His unconditional love for the imperfect.

With these three questions Peter is, in a certain sense, set free from his three denials.  And to indicate the connection between these two events, John specifies: They saw a charcoal fire there (Greek anthrakia, the only two times this word occurs in the New Testament—Jn.18:18 and 21:9).

–Rev. Bastiaan Baan, Dec. 27, 2020

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