Saturday, March 15, 2014

Hearts and Flowers and Hungry Sheep

My Facebook status on February 14:

True story: I'm 50 years old and have never (best i can remember) had an actual date on a Valentine's Day, and still my life is filled with much love.

Of course, there's all kinds of angles on that statement, some leading to light, some to darkness, but writing it, and then thinking about it, set my head to pondering Love. And hate. And all the ways we mean those words. 

Of course, it's difficult for us English speakers. We don't have words to differentiate the kinds of love we might experience. The Greeks at the time of the gospel writers did (for those who do not already know, that era of Greek is known as Koine Greek, which is different from Classical Greek or modern Greek). 

I'm always amused at interpretations of the 21st chapter of the Gospel of John that rely only on an English translation. This is the post-resurrection story of Jesus meeting his disciples on the beach and eating breakfast with them. Then he turns to Peter and asks, "Peter do you love me?" Peter answers, "Of course I love you." Jesus replies with something about feeding or tending his sheep. This happens three times and Peter's feelings get hurt a little bit.

What's missing in our readings in English is the Greek nuances. In Greek, Jesus asks, "do you agape me?" Do you love me, no matter what, unconditionally? Peter answers with "I phileo you." I love you like a brother. Different loves.

And therein lies the disingenuousness of my Facebook post. I was playing with the ambiguity of "love" in our language. On Valentine's Day, it's all about hearts and flowers, and indeed, there has been very little of that in my life. There is, however, much love that is like a family or, more to the point, friends. I do not lack for affection in that area.

Then, of course, there is the constant, steadfast agape that hits me now and again, the signs all around me of God's gracious love.

I get Peter and his shifting of focus from agape to phileo. The latter is so much easier to comprehend and act upon.

But feeding those sheep . . . there's just so many of them! That is one seriously big flock

Jesus ends the exchange with, "Follow me."

Here in this lenten season, we examine again our discipleship. I'm thinking a lot about love and the different kinds thereof. I'm overwhelmed by the sheep.

Follow you? Jesus, have mercy on a straying lamb. I'm 50 and still getting lost. Thank you for your shepherd's voice that keeps pulling me back into the fold, where I am fed and sometimes I feed.

I love you Jesus (English language ambiguity lending me some sort of ambiguous safety), but what I'm trying to say is: I am a hungry sheep, too.

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