John 21:1-19; 3rd Sunday of Easter
You’ve probably heard this interpretation of John’s Gospel before. But it’s just so rich that it bears repetition. John’s Gospel was written in Greek, and with Greek sensibilities. The Greeks had four words for love: eros, storge, philia, & agápe, two of which appear in today’s Gospel. Eros is sensual love. It seeks to self-gratify by possessing the other, whether sensually and/or sexually; hence, the word “erotic.” Storge refers to family love: love between parents and children, andamong siblings. Philia is the love between good friends, buddies, BFF’s. It’s marked by deep, mutual knowledge of the other. Before a word is on our mouths, BFF already knows we’re thinking it. We finish each other’s sentences. We know what the other hates and loves. We tell each other things we don’t dare tell even our spouses. Agápe is the highest, deepest, noblest love. It is self-forgetful. It is self-outpouring for the beloved. In agápe, one might not enjoy the warmth, tenderness, affection which are readily felt in eros, storge, and philia. But agápe seeks no recompense, anyway, no reciprocity. Which is why agápe is almost supernatural. It seems to go against what’s natural. Agápe is like a hero’s love for country, a martyr’s love for the Faith. So, in its most sublime sense, agápe is the willingness to die for the beloved.
Well, all of that is lost in the English version of today’s Gospel, which uses only one word: love. So, let me re-read some key lines in its original Greek.
“Simown, Iowannou (Simon, son of John), agapasme (do you love me) more than these?” “Nai, Kurie (Yes, Lord), you know that philów se (I love you).” A second time, Jesus asks, “Simown Iowannou, agapasme more than these?” Peter answers, “Nai, kurie, you know everything, you know that philów se.” Third and last time, Jesus asks Peter, “Simown Iowannou, philéis me?” And Peter became sorrowful, elupeithei. Not just sad, sorrowed. He couldn’t lie. He knew he couldn’t reciprocate Jesus’ agápe with an unequivocal, prompt, and resounding, “Nai, Kurie, agapaowse!” Even when once upon a time, in a fit of typical Petrine bravado, he said: “Even if I have to die with you, Lord, I will never disown you.” In the face of the Agápe Incarnate, Peter could only whimper, “Philówse.”
But not to worry. Because, this is so typical of Jesus: regardless of how much or how little we can offer him, he’ll take it. Remember the five loaves and two fishes? Remember the hemorrhagic woman who touched but the hem of his cloak? Remember the mustard seed story? Philia lang kaya natin? “O sige!” You could almost hear Jesus say. “Kahit philia lang. Game ako! Feed my sheep!” Ah, yes. This God of descent; Dios nating laging pumapanaog; always begins from where we are no matter how messy, and from what we have no matter how few.
The exchange of agápe & philia between Jesus and Peter is very touching. But the point of the story is what Jesus asks Peter to do, no matter what love he happens to feel. “Feed my lambs; tend my sheep; feed my sheep.” “It doesn’t matter how much or how little you love me, Peter. Hindi naman ‘yan ang pinakamahalaga sa akin. Ang pinakamahalaga, alagaan mo mga tao.” And you know, sisters and brothers, this is not strange to us. We hear this all the time from good parents. “Magtampo na sa amin ang aming mga anak. Basta magmahalan lang silang magkakapatid. Mapabayaan man nila kami sa aming katandaan. Basta ‘wag lang nilang pababayaan ang isa’t isa, lalo na kapag wala na kami.” That, sisters and brothers, is agápe. More than feelings of warmth, tenderness, and reciprocation? Feeding the sheep, tending the lambs, looking after the flock, that is agápe.
And this is what hundreds of you have done these past few months. You went to the sheep, fed the lambs, cared for the flock. Particularly moving was how many of you left your comfort zones, and coming together with friends, you went house to house to house, bringing food, clothes, and most of all, yourselves, over to our poor brothers and sisters. You saw how much more simply they lived, what they ate, how little they earned. You saw their children, their clothes, their eyes. Napansin n’yo po ba mga tsinelas ng mga dukha? Halos tunaw na sa nipis, ‘di po ba? Their slippers told you where they’d been and how much they’d been through, and the little they have to go on. Most of all, you saw how big their hearts were, how sincere their gratitude, how real their joy. Which was why some of you realized, “We could’ve done this sooner. Noon pa dapat natin ito ginagawa. Election or not, we should’ve done this sooner.” Kaya nga po, pagkatapos ng eleksiyon, sino man manalo, masusukat po ang sinseridad ng pagmamahal natin sa mga kapatid nating dukha. Would we still go house to house, visit them & bring food, make friends with them? In other words, granting Jesus’ request, would we still do agápe with them?
Malapit na po ang pagtutuos. Sa mga kumakandidato, palagay n’yo po, batay sa nagdaang 10 taon, sinu-sino po sa kanila ang naramdaman n’yong nag-agápe? Nagbuhos ng sarili sa kapwa, lalo na sa dukha? Sinu-sino po sa kanila, kahit walang eleksiyon, ang hindi uminda ng init, sikip, pawis, pandemic, para pumanaog sa mga nangangailangan? And among them, sisters and brothers, who do you think would die for us, ‘yung ipagpapatayan tayo, sa ngalan ng katarungan, kinabukasan, kalayaan? On the other hand, sino po sa kanila, nitong nagdaang 10 taon, ang nagpa-eros-eros lang: nagpasarap, nagpakasasa, at ngayon, nagpapamudmod para sa lalo pa nilang ikapagpapasarap at ikapagpapakasasa? Who among them would die for us? Ipagpapatayan ba nila tayo? O sila ang papatay? Lalo na ‘pag na-hurt ang feelings. At ‘pag nagkaipitan na, sino ang mananatili? At sino naman ang bibirahan tayo ng layas, bitbit-bitbit ang pinaghirapan n’yo pong pang-kinabukasan? If Jesus were to come over on May 9 to name people he believes would really tend his sheep, feed his lambs, look after his flock, which ones would be the shepherds after his own heart? Would we see our name on his list?
*Photo care of Getty images