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In our gospel reading this Sunday, Jesus takes Peter for a walk along the shore and asks him three questions. All the questions seem to be the same. Each question, however, asks something different of Peter. Jesus first asks Peter: “Do you love me more than these?” Jesus is not asking Peter if his love is Jesus is greater than that of the other disciples. The word for “these” refers to things, not people. There along the shore is Peter’s boat with the nets. Peter loved fishing, but did he love Jesus more? Do we love Jesus more than other interests and pursuits?
The Greek language, in which the New Testament is written, has three words for love. The most basic is “eros,” a physical attraction that is self-satisfying. The next level of love is “philos” which means a true concern for another based on friendship or an attraction to the other person. The highest form of love is “agape” which rises from the will rather than feelings. It is a choice to do the best and care for another whether or not one feels like doing so. Only with agape love can a person love an enemy. The word for love in the first two questions is “agape.” Jesus asks Peter if his love is perfect. Peter’s response to both questions uses the word “philos.” Peter loves Jesus because he likes Jesus as his friend and teacher/
In his third question to Peter, Jesus uses the word “philos” and Peter responds with the same word. Jesus challenges all of us to “be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48), while at the same time loving and working through us despite our being imperfect instruments. As Vince Lombardi, coach of the Green Bay Packers, once said: “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.”