Scriptures: Acts 9:1-20, John 21:1-19
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
You may remember the Gospel of John is referred to by some scholars as the “Signs Gospel” because there are so many layers of meaning to tease out for every passage. On the surface we are invited into endearing stories and encounters with Jesus-some not found anywhere else in our scriptures. On deeper layers we find impactful lessons for living as “Followers of the Way.” Today’s common lectionary passage from John is one of these endearing, multi-layered passages.
There are two common words in New Testament Biblical Greek for the verb “to love.” agapao and phileo. Is there a difference in shades of meaning between these two verbs? Some commentators say no, it is interchangeable. Others claim that agapao is stronger in meaning than phileo. Drawing our attention to which kind of love is spoken by who and in what order I think sheds some light on it.
Agapao, the word Jesus first uses and initiates, is a love that is deeply affectionate, concerned for the welfare of others, and always wanting what is best for them. I have come to the point where I think this is a slight but important difference from phileo.
Phileo, to me, seems more of an affectionate love-as in between colleagues, good friends, or siblings. Given time, reciprocity, and nurture it is not hard to see how the affectionate love can grow into a more mature love. What is interesting here is that in this story, Jesus uses both words, while Peter only uses the second.
The first and second times Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me more than these?” Jesus uses agapao. Peter answers, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you,” using phileo. The third time Jesus asks Peter “Do you love me,” Jesus uses Peter’s word, phileo instead. Why?
Jesus changed his own wording in order to speak with Peter using Peter’s own words. To me, this has deeply theological significance in that Jesus comes to us and meets us where we are. Like Peter, we may not be able to say “I love you” in the same sense that Jesus loves – at least not at first. But because God sees us through the cross of Jesus, we are loved beyond our ability, and in this love is our life. Moreover, in this love is our life work – to strive toward loving others more completely, as Jesus loves us. This is so important, in fact, that no matter if we love imperfectly or deeply, I am convinced Jesus is asking us in this story, as he did Peter, to feed his sheep with that same kind of love. Perhaps, with the grace of God, if we love imperfectly long enough, the blessing of loving more perfectly will come. Such is my fervent prayer.
Peter and the other 6 disciples faced with the reality of the risen Christ and ate breakfast with him on the beach in early morning. Paul is confronted with the risen Christ as well; in his journey along the Damascus road. A journey I have termed “Paul’s Emmaus Road.” In doing so, I place these two journeys in parallel for what they can teach us through their similarities. In the original Emmaus road story, some disciples are kept from seeing Jesus as he walks along with them toward Emmaus. They are, in effect, struck blind by their sorrow at the events of the Passion Week, yet also captured by the stories the women told them of seeing the risen Lord. Indeed, until they have the scriptures opened to them by Jesus himself, they remain blind.
Paul, who calls himself a “Pharisee son of a Pharisee,” who was in ardent opposition to the movement within his sacred Judaism dubbed “Followers of the Way,” was traveling the Damascus road intentionally to find, collect, and imprison the disciples of Jesus. In his encounter, however, he was struck blind even more forcefully than the Emmaus road disciples. “…Suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do” (Acts 9:3-6).
He had such an incredible conversion experience through this that he eventually changed his name from Saul to Paul. Herein lies the challenge to each and every Christian alive today. Does the reality of the majesty and impact of a risen Jesus Christ translate in our own lives powerfully enough to convert us – regardless of whether we have name changes or not to signify such – to lives of dedication, service, fellowship, discipleship, witness, dare I say love – in the name of Jesus Christ?
For such is the calling to which we have been called at our Baptism, the calling to which we are marked with the sign of the cross, the calling to which God calls both women and men along the Emmaus or Damascus roads we trod in our own journeys of faith – both individually and corporately as a worshiping community. For a “Follower of the Way,” there is no higher calling than this.
May all glory be unto the One who lived, died, and rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.
 Acts 23:6
Questions for Reflection
Jesus chose Peter, who had denied him in his hour of need, to tend his sheep and build his church. He chose Paul, who had persecuted Jesus’ followers, to proclaim the good news of the gospel. Can anything separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ? What has Jesus chosen and called you to do?
Household Prayer: Morning
Lord Jesus Christ, as you met your disciples just after daybreak on the beach, meet us at the dawning of this new day. As you filled their nets with fish, fill our lives with love and grace, more than we can ask or imagine. In your holy name we pray. Amen.
Household Prayer: Evening
Gracious God, we praise you for the blessing of this day and the promise of tomorrow. Be our helper as the night falls and our joy when the morning comes; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.