Loving Jesus the Way He Loves Us
May 17, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Friday of the Seventh Week of Easter
Reading I (Acts 25:13b-21) Gospel (St. John 21:15-19)
Our Lord, in the Gospel today, looks at St. Peter, and tells him what is going to happen in his life: Peter is going to be stripped of all of his independence, of anything of the self. He says to Peter, "When you were younger you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted, but when you grow old… someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go." In other words, we see where Peter, by his own free will, is going to give himself completely to the Lord. St. John tells us this is to signify the kind death by which Peter would glorify God. Then Jesus looks at Peter and says, "Follow Me."
Now as we saw the other day, there are the two different words that are used for love here in these three questions. The first two times, Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him with charity - with agape love, in Greek - the highest kind of love. Peter answers Jesus, "You know that I love You with filos, friendship love." Jesus asks him that question twice and Peter answers it the same way. The third time, Jesus asks him if he loves Him with filos love, with friendship love, and Peter agrees that is what he does. That is when Jesus says, "Here is the way it was when you were younger; here is what it will be when you are older." In other words, "Right now, Peter, you do only love Me with friendship, but the day is going to come when you will love Me with true charity, with the kind of love with which I love you. And you are going to demonstrate that love perfectly by stretching out your hands and allowing another to lead you away, by giving up your freedom, by using your freedom to give your freedom away, and using your freedom to offer your life for God." That is what Our Lord is telling Peter.
In the meantime, Peter is to feed the sheep and to tend the lambs and so on. He is to follow Jesus in everything. Jesus came into this world to be the Shepherd, and He is sharing part of that shepherding task with Peter. The ultimate point where Peter is going to understand what it means to be the shepherd, is that the Good Shepherd will lay down his life for his sheep. That is something each one of us must learn as well. Each one of us is called to follow Jesus. That means to go beyond just having Jesus as our friend, and entering into that deep, profound union with Our Lord, that deep love relationship with Jesus so that it is no longer a love of friendship, but rather it is the love of God. We are loving God with the very love He gave to us.
We will demonstrate that love by looking out for the good of others, rather than for ourselves, by no longer doing what we want, going where we want, dressing the way we want; but rather, we will go where God wants us to and with whatever instrument He uses to demonstrate that. We will follow Him, even if that means following Him to Calvary, even if it means following Him by a kind of death that will glorify God, whatever it is going to require. That is what Jesus required of Peter and that is what He is asking of each one of us. He will not force it upon us, but He asks each one of us today, "Do you love Me, and with what kind of love do you love Me?" If all that we can muster is the love of friendship, Jesus will be satisfied with that for now. But He is going to ask us to grow in love, to overcome any kind of selfishness, and to love Him the way He loves us, to follow Him, completely and perfectly. We will do that by learning to die to self and look out for the good of others, to love our neighbor by tending the sheep and feeding the lambs, and to love God by glorifying Him in life and in death. Our Lord asks the question: "Do you love Me?" Then He follows with exactly what we need to do if our answer is "yes". He says very simply, "Follow Me."
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.