The Best We Can Give

One of the wonderful things about our God is God’s willingness to accept the best that we can offer at any given moment, even if it is not as much as we’d like to be able to give, and even if it is not as much as God would like for us to be able to offer.

I was struck by how beautifully this is illustrated in the scene between Jesus and Peter at the end of St. John’s Gospel….or at least it would be if the English language were more nuanced than it is or if we read the passage in Greek rather than English.

In this post-Resurrection appearance, Jesus is sitting on the beach cooking some fish as the disciples return from their fishing. As he is feeding them breakfast, he asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?” Each time, Peter answers yes, the third time with some hurt in his voice.

In English the three questions sound the same and most people are content to say simply that Jesus asks the same question three times to mirror Peter’s denial of Christ three times. However, in the Greek, two different words for love are used in this passage: agape and fileo. Agapic love is radical and unconditional love; fileo is the love of friendship. In accordance with the original Greek, Samuel Wells translates the exchange between Peter and Jesus like this:

Jesus: Do you love me wholeheartedly and with no thought for yourself, differently from the way you love others?

Peter: You know that I love you as a friend.

Jesus: Do you love me wholeheartedly and with no thought for yourself, differently from the way you love others?

Peter: You know that I love you as a friend.

Jesus: Do you love me as a friend?

Peter: You know everything: you know that I love you as a friend.

Peter is unable to confess to Jesus the love Jesus asks of him the first two times. What is Jesus response? To criticize Peter? To tell him how disappointed he is in him for not being able to give more? No. Jesus’ response is to reframe the question in the way Peter is capable of answering it, accepting that Peter simply is not capable of offering more than that.

In his discussion of this passage during a General Audience, Pope Benedict talks about the significance of Jesus’ shift in language. He says, “Jesus has put himself on the level of Peter, rather than Peter on Jesus’ level! It is exactly this divine conformity that gives hope to the disciples, who experienced the pain of infidelity.” As Timothy Radcliffe observes, “God accepts our limited, fragile forgetful loves if that is all we have to offer him now.”

And so we do the best can. We offer the best we are capable of in any given moment. And we do so with the security that God accepts the best we can give.

One thought on “The Best We Can Give

  1. Pingback: Asking for More, But Accepting What We Can Give « Creo en Dios!

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