Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Agapas me... Philo se (Jn. 21, 15-18)

Άγαπãς με?... Φίλω σε (Jn. 21, 15-18)

Behold the question put to Simon son of John after his triple denial of Jesus when he was stripped of the ontological change making him “Peter” (as Christ is “Cornerstone”) that had come over him by entering the prayer of Jesus to the Father, as disclosed in Lk. 9, 18: “As He prayed, His disciples were with Him.”

Jesus asks him after the Resurrection (Jn. 21 15), “Do you love me more than these?" Simon answers, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Observe that this occurs three times. The next two times, the Greek words are the same. Christ says, "agape;" Simon says "Philo." “Philia,” according to Josef Pieper, "usually too narrowly translated by `friendship,’ seems, like its related verb philein, to stress chiefly fellow feeling, the solidarity among human beings, and not only of friends but also of spouses, fellow countrymen and people in general. `It is my nature to join in love, not hate’ – in this famous sentence of Antigone, she speaks neither of eros nor of agape; the word used is philein.”[1] It seems clear that Philein does not mean self-gift.The third time Christ uses the verb philein, lowering the level of the request which perhaps cannot be made until the Holy Spirit descends on Simon and the others.

The point: Christ is asking for the return of Agape - the Love of self-gift - that He had just made on the Cross. He asks Simon – yet to recover the ontological identity of being Peter by the coming of the Spirit on Pentecost – if he loves Him with Agape. The answer is a revealing change of verbs: "Philo se:" No, not yet." And, you and I?

[1] J. Pieper, “Faith, Hope, Love” Ignatius (1997) 156.

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