Sts. Peter and Paul, Apostles: Gospel – John 21:15-19 (Vigil); Matthew 16:13-19
The Gospel for the Vigil Mass and Sunday’s Gospel feature pivotal dialogues between Jesus and Simon Peter, each culminating in the Lord’s entrusting him with his unique mission in the Church.
In the text from Matthew, Jesus asks his disciples the pointed question, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter responds, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Upon this profession of faith, Jesus entrusts to Peter a “unique mission,” as the Catechism notes, “to keep this faith from every lapse and to strengthen his brothers in it…The ‘power of the keys’ designates authority to govern the house of God, which is the Church” (paragraphs 552-553).
In this context, it is significant that Jesus bestows upon Simon a new name — Cephas, “Rock,” which was rendered in Greek as Petros, in Latin as Petrus, as Pope Benedict XVI observes:
And it was translated precisely because it was not only a name; it was a “mandate” that Petrus received in that way from the Lord.
This fact acquires special importance if one bears in mind that in the Old Testament, a change of name usually preceded the entrustment of a mission…
Jesus responded by pronouncing the solemn declaration that defines Peter’s role in the Church once and for all…what the subsequent reflection will describe by the term: “primacy of jurisdiction.”
But “the ultimate meaning of this primacy” is in service to the love of Christ:
Thus, Peter is responsible for guaranteeing communion with Christ, with the love of Christ, guiding people to fulfill this love in everyday life.
—Audience of June 7, 2006
In John 21:15-19, the Risen Christ asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?” Lost in the English translation is the fact that the Greek text involves different nuances in the words for “love.”
Benedict explains this “very significant play on words,” with deep implications for our own path of discipleship:
In Greek, the word “fileo” means the love of friendship, tender but not all-encompassing; instead, the word “agapao” means love without reserve, total and unconditional. Jesus asks Peter the first time: “Simon… do you love me (agapas-me)” with this total and unconditional love (Jn 21:15)?
Prior to the experience of betrayal, the Apostle certainly would have said: “I love you (agapo-se) unconditionally.” Now that he has known the bitter sadness of infidelity, the drama of his own weakness, he says with humility: “Lord; you know that I love you (filo-se)“, that is, “I love you with my poor human love.” Christ insists: “Simon, do you love me with this total love that I want?” And Peter repeats the response of his humble human love: “Kyrie, filo-se,” “Lord, I love you as I am able to love you.”
The third time Jesus only says to Simon: “Fileis-me?”, “Do you love me?”
In this way, Jesus asks us for the love that we can give. Even if we are incapable of giving Him the perfect love that He deserves, the Lord graciously accommodates Himself to our own frailties and limitations:
Simon understands that his poor love is enough for Jesus, it is the only one of which he is capable, nonetheless he is grieved that the Lord spoke to him in this way. He thus replies: “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you (filo-se).“
This is to say that Jesus has put Himself on the level of Peter, rather than Peter on Jesus’ level!
…Peter succeeded in entrusting himself to that Jesus Who adapted Himself to his poor capacity of love. And in this way he shows us the way, notwithstanding all of our weakness. We know that Jesus adapts Himself to this weakness of ours.
We follow Him with our poor capacity to love and we know that Jesus is good and He accepts us.
— Audience of May 24, 2006
Question for reflection: How would I respond to the Lord when He asks, “Do you love me?”