We have often read about this poignant episode between our Lord Jesus and his disciple Peter in the light of the subtle shifts in the use of the Greek word for love. In the first two times that Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” he uses the Greek word for the purest form of love – the love of God. To each of these, Peter replies, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you” using a different Greek word for love, one which refers to a lower form of love – that between friends or brothers. It was as if Peter, humbled after denying Jesus three times, were saying, “Lord, you know I do love you, but only so much.” So when Jesus asks Peter for the third time, “Do you love me?” he shifts to the fraternal
form, as if to say, “Okay, Peter, I accept even the imperfect love that you are ready to give.”
Jesus now predicts that Peter will suffer and die, presumably in the fulfillment of his newly received mission and responsibility. Despite Peter’s profession of an imperfect love, and his admission and display of weakness, Jesus still deems him ready to take on what mere mortals can only contemplate with fear. Jesus sees something in Peter which Peter himself fails to see, something greater than meets the eye, something that makes God pursue us with seemingly foolish persistence.
“God loves us just the way we are.” So we often hear this. But this is just the first half of the truth. We must never forget to complete the statement: “… and he loves us into who we are meant to be.”