“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.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved 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 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” 19 (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”
Our experience of Christ in the midst of life continues.
The I AM asks us questions. This is because a question opens us up to new possibilities and new understandings. Our normal consciousness may not understand the question at first. In esoteric tradition, a question is asked three times to a candidate for admission. Christ questions Peter to see if he is ready to be admitted to a new level of consciousness.
The questioning makes little sense in its English translation. This is because the English language has one word, “love”, that covers every degree of affection from casual liking, “I really love your dress!” to friendship, erotic relationship and spiritual connection. Greek, however has different words for each of these degrees of relationship.
Christ asks Peter if he “agapes” him. Agape is the deepest form of spiritual love. It is the love God has for his creation. It is the love that our souls have for God. Peter replies, “Yes, Lord, you know that I “philo” you!”
Now philo means “I love you as a friend.” Philo is the greatest degree of friendship that one human being can have with another. It means I honour, respect, connect with you as one human being to another. The Australian concept of mateship has this meaning. You may sacrifice your own life for your mate, but you do so, as one human being to another.”
Christ has had this relationship with the disciples when, as Jesus, he was their teacher and friend. He has gone beyond this now. He has transformed into spirit. The old relationship must be transformed as well. It can be incredibly difficult for us to see a friend as a spiritual force. Often a spiritual teacher may find that their closest friends and family cannot make this transition. These people struggle to maintain the old connection. Such a person may have a deep friendship or family relationship with the teacher, but this very relationship stands in the way of discovering the deeper, spiritual relationship. Like Peter, they cannot move from the love of philos, to the love of agape.
Christ gives Peter what Peter wants. Peter is not ready, for agape, so Christ asks him finally for philos. Peter, however, has stepped onto the spiritual path. He has entered the path of Christ. Through the experiences of this path: the service, the sacrifice and the ultimate surrender of the old self, Peter will discover agape. It may take the ultimate sacrifice, but Peter, by walking the same path Christ walked, by becoming, as St Paul puts it, “the image” of Christ, will also be transformed into a power that relates to the world with purpose, transformation and agape.
Thanks to my more knowlegeable artist friends, I discovered that this is a detail from a cartoon (an artist’s preliminary painting - in this case for a set of tapestries) by the famous artist Rapahel and his studio.
This event is sometimes called, The Restoration of Peter. Peter is being forgiven for his denial at the trial of Jesus, more, he is being restored to his position as the Rock upon which the church will be built. We can see the agony on the face of Peter. He has reached the stage of surrender. He is ready to separate from his possessions and his attachments. He arrives at the stage of surrender through admitting his love.
In this day, we can examine what we are attached to. What it is that we love, and how deeply we love. Ask what we need to empty out, so that we can experience the fullness of love.
The question put to St. Peter is the question that is put to all of us. Do you love me more than these? Sometimes I wonder whether we do, whether we love our circumstances better than God, our friends more than God, what we know more than God, our possessions more than God, our wives and husbands more than God. Yet every time when this comes to you, you have to surrender. If you don’t then either the Beloved turns away from you and your heart will be empty and you will fill it with emptiness or the Beloved will take away from you that which separates him from you.
Rev Mario Schoenmaker, Going Through the Steps of Mysticism, 20th Jan 1981