I had to bring my car in for a recall. A few days after that, I received a survey from the dealership. Most of the questions were rather objective (Was the service person courteous; was the repair done correctly; etc.). At the end of the questionnaire were a few subjective questions (Do you love your Ford car?). I marked "Does Not Apply". It seemed those final questions were looking for someone the Ford Company could put in a commercial!
Jesus asked a question of Peter: "Do you love me?" We are familiar with this encounter. We know that the Gospels use three different Greek words for ‘love’. There is eros, which is a passionate, sensual love; philos, which indicates a deep friendship and affection; and agape, which carries the sense of a deeper love that goes beyond merely fascination. Agape is selfless, sacrificial, unconditional love, the highest form of love in the bible and is the word the early Church used to describe God’s love.
In the exchange Jesus asked Peter twice if Peter loved (agape) him. Peter responded that he did love (philos) Jesus. In the third question Jesus asked if Peter loved (philos) him, and Peter said that he loved (philos) Jesus. We are listening to a Peter who has put aside his bravado. Peter learned the hard way what it means to love Jesus Christ. He had enthusiastically stated his unfailing love to Jesus more than once. His self-confident words proved to be nothing but empty words when facing a hostile state of affairs.
Peter could not offer Jesus agape, but he could offer philos. That was good enough for Jesus and so Jesus changed his word for love in the third exchange. If this is the level of love Peter could offer, that is what Jesus asked for. Jesus encounters us where we are and how we are.
Successful or a failure. Outgoing or shy. Acting from the heart or from the head. Relying on facts or going with hunches. Spontaneous or planning ahead. Extrovert, intuitive, feeling or perceptive. We each have our way of loving God. The Spirit did not wait for the eleven apostles to figure everything out; the Spirit didn’t wait until they all became one personality. The Spirit descended upon them, as they were… eleven unique people with their distinctive personalities.
The Holy Spirit comes into our lives no matter our degree of holiness. The Spirit is with us whether we are accomplished in the Christian way, not too faithful in following the Christian way or we are wondering what is the Christian way. Open the door and let the Spirit enter. The Spirit knows better than we do how to enter and where to enter. "Only God’s Spirit gives new life. The Spirit is like the wind that blows wherever it wants" (John 3:8). The Spirit blows where it wants and will blow some fresh air into our lives.
Fr. Don Webber, C.P., is Provincial Superior of Holy Cross Province and resides in Chicago, Illinois.