How interesting that in all of scripture, there is only one instance where this intimate use of the expression "I love you" gets used. And it happens between Christ and the rock upon which he would build His church, Simon, son of John. Unfortunately, the nuance of this exchange gets a bit watered down in the English translation so a look at the Latin is in order.
To give this some context, those who are familiar with Spanish know the way one says "I love you" in that language is te amo. It's a very strong and passionate expression usually reserved for couples in love. By contrast, if one were tell one's mother that he loves her, he would likely use the expression te quiero. It's still a term of endearment, but without the connotation of romantic love.
In Latin, to say I love you as those in love would do one would say amo te. This is exactly what Peter answered to Christ as recorded in the Latin Vulgate each time Jesus asked the question, Simon son of John do you love me? However, the first two times Jesus asked this question of Peter, he used a different form the word love. Instead of amo, Christ uses the phrase diligis me?, which would be more of a friend asking another friend of his esteem for him. It's much milder than amo.
Notice that the first time Jesus asks Peter of his love for him He asks, do you love me more than these? In essence Christ is asking Peter if he holds him in higher regard than the disciples who happen to be sitting around the campfire eating breakfast. In simplest terms, He might have very easily asked Peter, "Am I your bestfriend?" Peter's feelings for Jesus were far deeper than just loving a friend. He was ready to really give his all to Christ, his entire being, only now he possessed the fortitude he lacked in the courtyard of the temple where he denied Jesus three times.
Knowing that Christ knew of his love for Him, it must have been difficult for Peter to hear Jesus ask him this question in this way. And when he answers Jesus with the adoration of amo te, Christ doesn't say, "I love you, too," but instead asks him a second time with the less ardent, diligis me? Our Lord could have easily asked him, "do you love me like you love your brother, Andrew?" Knowing Peter's impetuous nature, one can easily imagine this simple fisherman near tears and full of passion when he answers the Savior's question with amo te.
And then, Jesus asks the question Peter longs to hear and yet that question grieves him deeply.
Christ is not asking Peter if he loves Him in the fraternal vein anymore, but rather there has been a shift in the conversation. Now He asks in the deeper and more intimate way. Why would this cause Peter so much sadness? Should it not have brought him joy that at last Jesus was connecting with him on the same level in this matter of love?
Perhaps the question brought home to Peter the horror of what he did when he denied Christ at the temple. If Christ had asked him before he was arrested in the Garden of Gethsamane, "do you love me?" most certainly Peter would have answered with amo te. His love didn't change. But instead of his heart being governed by fear as it was on Good Friday, now it was infused with grace, and that gift just might have allowed him to realize the full gravity of his offense. Any spouse who has ever severely wounded the feelings of his or her mate due to selfishness gains empathy for what Peter must have felt.
Jesus gave Peter absolution. After this famous exchange His command to Peter was simple, "Follow me." It was a command directed not just to Peter but to all of humanity. For the fact remains that wherever and in whomever one finds Christ, His question to one is not diligis me? Jesus calls for a greater commitment. Pray for the grace to hear the Our Lord asking His bride,