Agape Love and Breakfast With Jesus
User’s Guide to the Third Sunday of Easter
Today’s Gospel is remarkable in that, although the apostles have seen the Resurrected Jesus several times, they seem to be retreating into the past. Jesus must summon them back to the future. They were going back to fishing, but the Lord calls them and points them back to their crucial call to be fishers of men. Let’s look at today’s Gospel in four stages.
Peter says, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We also will come with you.” Now, Peter had no business going back to fishing. The Lord had called him away from fishing, saying, “I will make you fishers of men.” This is not recreational fishing; the commercial nets are out. While we ponder St. Peter’s relapse, we should recognize that we easily do the same. We run back to the things from which we have been called away. The Lord points us forward.
Jesus was standing on the shore and said to them, “Cast the net over the right side of the boat and you will find something.” So they cast it and were not able to pull it in because of the number of fish. The Lord stands on the shore and does again for them what he had done some three years earlier, when he called them from fishing to evangelizing. This reminder draws the obvious conclusion: “It is the Lord!” How has the Lord stood on the shore and called to you with some reminder? Perhaps it was through a tattered old Bible or maybe a hymn that you heard. Perhaps it was from the discovery of your grandmother’s rosary beads stored away in a dresser drawer. Perhaps it was due to a moment at a funeral or a wedding.
In a tender gesture, Jesus has cooked breakfast for them. After breakfast, the Lord asks Peter, “Do you love me?” Peter answers, “Yes, Lord, I love you.” But the Greek text is more subtle: “Simon Joannou agapas me?” So Jesus is asking about agape love, the highest love, wherein we love God above all things and all people, including ourselves. However, Peter replies, “Kyrie, philo se.” “Lord, I have brotherly love for you.” This is far short of what the Lord asked. A second time, the same dialogue sets up. The third time Jesus changes his request, “Simon, son of John, do you have brotherly love (phileis) for me?” Peter is grieved and exclaims that he (only) has brotherly love. But the Lord does not reject him and assigns him a task: “Feed my lambs.” This is a beautiful and honest moment. Peter honestly answers that he has only imperfect love to offer; no more posing, no more bragging. What about you? Are you honest with the Lord?
Jesus tells Peter that when he was young he went about as he pleased, but one day he would die a martyr’s death. And when he had said this, he said to him, “Follow me.” So Peter is weak now, but the Lord will give him strength. At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit will come, and Peter will be quickened and strengthened in the faith by following wherever Jesus leads. And, as to the day of his eventual martyrdom, Peter, on that day, will finally have the grace to accept martyrdom and will be able to say, without any simulation or exaggeration, “I love you, Lord, with agape love, above all things, above all people, and above even my own life.”
Here, then, is a picture of the spiritual life. Let the Lord deepen your love and commitment to him as the years go by.