I continue to be intrigued with this story. but I get really frustrated with those who build on the difference between agapao (supposedly divine unconditional love) and phileo (friendship, warm feeling love) in Peter’s restoration story in John 21. So it goes, "Peter do you love me with a divine love? "Yes, Lord, I love you with a friend love." â€œ"Feed [take to pasture] my lambs." â€œThe second time it goes, "Peter do you love me with a divine love? "Yes, Lord, I love you with a friend love." [same question and response]. â€œ"Take care of [assume total guardianship of a shepherd] my sheep." [a higher level of care] Then the third goes, â€œDo you love me with a friend love?â€ â€œLord, you know I friend love you.â€ "Feed [take to pasture] my lambs."
Trying to make sense of this wording difference by assuming significance to the changes from divine love to friend love, feed to pasture, and lambs to sheep quickly gets weighed down with difficulty. For example in the first question, In effect, Jesus asks Peter, â€œDo you possess a profound love for me?â€ and Peter responds, â€œYes Lord, I am fond of you.â€ Peter should answer Jesus question about divine love with a â€œNoâ€ not a yes. In effect, Jesus accepts Peterâ€™s lie.
Itâ€™s way better to realize that John, ever the Hebrew poet, loves to play with words. As we see in the Psalms, Hebrew poets love synonymous parallelism, saying the same thing with different words.
It is also true that agapao, supposedly divine love is used for Demasâ€™ love for the world that causes him to desert Paul (2 Tim. 4:10). Hardly godlike! On the other hand, phileo is used of the Fatherâ€™s eternal love for the Son in John 5:20. The semantic domain of two words have overlaps significantly. Ditto for feed/tend and sheep/lambs.
Hereâ€™s how the story goes, I think. Peter, who repented deeply of his terrible sin of denying Jesus (Matt. 26:75), immediately (Matt 28:10) went to Galilee to be where Jesus told the disciples He would meet them. What do you do while you wait for Jesus to show up? You could play video games or sip a latte. But Peter suggests going fishing. Itâ€™s not to go desert discipleship and go back to his old profession. Itâ€™s to fill moments with a an activity that will ease the excited pressures of waiting. As soon as Peter realized the man on the shore is Jesus, he cannot wait a second: he throws himself in the water to get to Jesus. Hardly the act of a deserter!
Then the point of the passage is that Jesus, standing down wind from a charcoal fire, the same kind of fire as Peter was warming his hands over as he denied Jesus, probes Peter. â€œDo you love me?â€ Peter quickly says yes. Jesus tells him to be the pastor. Again. The third time, Peter is hurt. â€œJesus, you know I love you. Why do you keep asking? Do you doubt me?â€ Jesusâ€™ third command to do the pastor work overcomes the triple denial. â€œPeter, you are my man. I donâ€™t care what your failure. Thatâ€™s done. Your love is what counts. Pastor My flock.â€
Itâ€™s an incredible act of grace.
I love seeing Peter restored. Iâ€™d like to see all Peterâ€™s restored. Grace is such a powerful thing. But itâ€™s not infallible. Sometimes the hurt is too great. So sadness and loss is extended. It is so hard when thereâ€™s nothing one can do to help. So the agonizing emptiness of loss goes on. Will there ever be a time of eating fish at the charcoal fire?