Unlike English, Greek has at least four words for “love,” classically and clearly distinguished by the great C.S. Lewis in his book titled, appropriately enough, The Four Loves. There is agape, pure unselfish love, the ‘charity’ of the Gospels; philia, the love of friendship, especially between brothers; storge, affection love, a deep bond usually borne of spending a long time with another; and, of course, the one most familiar, eros, which is passionate love, most vividly found in sexual love, seeking pleasure from the other.
It is good to keep these in mind in reading today’s Gospel from the last chapter of Saint John, as the nuances are lost in the English translation. When Christ asks Peter ‘Do you love me?’, the Lord uses ‘agape’. When Peter replies, ‘Lord, you know that I love you’, he uses ‘ philia’. This is similar to asking someone if they love us, and they reply, ‘Well, I like you a lot’. You might as well have a dagger plunged into thy heart, as you’ve been friend-zoned.
Christ asks the question again, with the same response. The third time, however, Christ asks using ‘philia’, and Peter replies the same way, and ’tis enough, for now, as Christ commands him to ‘feed my sheep’. The Lord knows Peter’s limits, and that he will soon be drawn to a higher love – true, sacrificial charity – when someone will ‘bind him, and lead him where he would rather not’. For true love, loves unto death, and no greater love hath a man, than to lay down his life for his friend.
To that, dear reader, we are all called.