Thought for the day
Even a short reflection reminds us that speaking about God is indispensable and pointless. Somehow we need to hold the experience which is beyond words in our words of clay. Such God-talk serves to keep us oriented towards the Mystery. At the same time, we know that we are using our limited everyday experience to speak of the Mystery as such, strictly unique — beyond our minds and even our hearts. This is obviously the case when we say God is our rock. It may feel less obviously the case when we use words such as father, mother or even love itself…but even so, our limited lens illuminates and conceals.
God, always greater, your love for us comes from your inner being as love itself. It astonishes us that we are so loved and that you care about each one of us so intensely. Amen! Amen!
John 17:11 ‘I am no longer in the world; they are still in the world, but I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you have given me, that they may be one, as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I protected them by the power of your name which you gave me, and kept them safe. Not one of them is lost except the man doomed to be lost, for scripture has to be fulfilled.
John 17:13 ‘Now I am coming to you; but while I am still in the world I speak these words, so that they may have my joy within them in full measure. 14 I have delivered your word to them, and the world hates them because they are strangers in the world, as I am. 15 I do not pray you to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. 16 They are strangers in the world, as I am. 17 Consecrate them by the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world, 19 and for their sake I consecrate myself, that they too may be consecrated by the truth.
The exquisite chapter 17 of John’s Gospel is, surprisingly, not much read in the liturgy. On Sundays, it is read only on the 7th Sunday of Easter, each year, distributed as follows: year A: 17:1-11a; year B: 17:11b-19; year C: 17:20-26. In those places where the Ascension is celebrated on a Sunday, this chapter is never read on a Sunday. However, it is also read during the seventh week of Easter on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, using the same divisions. It forms the climax of the Farewell Discourse, deliberately placed here by the evangelist and of obvious significance to him.
Kind of writing
The whole of John 13-17 belongs to the genre of Farewell Discourse. The final chapter takes the following steps:
- Jesus prays for his glorification and describes eternal life (1-5)
- The beginning of eternal life in the disciples (6-8)
- Jesus prays for his disciples (9-19)
- Jesus prays for future believers (20-24)
- Jesus concludes his prayer (25-26)
The portion appointed for the today forms the substance of John 17:9-19, when Jesus prays for his disciples. for the sake of completeness, the first two verses will be added here.
Old Testament background
Even my bosom friend in whom I trusted, who ate of my bread, has lifted the heel against me. (Psalm 41:9)
There were some who pleased God and were loved by him, and while living among sinners were taken up. (Wisdom 4:10)
Your righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and your law is the truth. (Psalm 119:142; cf. Psalm 119:160)
New Testament foreground
In one scene in the Gospels, Jesus gives the epitome of his teaching, which is open to all. The New Testament echoes this widely (see Paul below) and the Johannine reception of this teaching is especially vigorous and rich.
One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbour as oneself,’—this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ After that no one dared to ask him any question. (Mark 12:28-34)
I thank my God every time I remember you.I always pray with joy in my every prayer for all of you because of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now.For I am sure of this very thing, that the one who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. For it is right for me to think this about all of you, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel all of you became partners in God’s grace together with me. For God is my witness that I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. And I pray this, that your love may abound even more and more in knowledge and every kind of insight so that you can decide what is best, and thus be sincere and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:3–11)
Verse 9 The opening word in Greek is egō, indicated an emphatic beginning. The verse clarifies for whom Jesus is now praying. The “world” has two meanings in John: the creation (good) and the powers against Jesus (evil).
Verse 10 The gender shifts to the neuter, the “things” meaning here God’s whole project in Jesus. In all those things, Jesus has been glorified, that is, his inner self has been disclosed.
Verse 11a The opening phrase gives us the perspective of this discourse: the post-Resurrection Jesus is speaking. Here “world” points to creation or earthly existence, in a positive way.
Verse 11b The prayer proper starts with the formal address, Holy Father. Keeping, in the sense of protects, is already a theme in the Farewell Discourse. The goal of this keeping is communion, grounded in the being of God.
Verse 12 First of all a glance back on the way Jesus had protected his followers. The one exception is Judas, whose role was an unconscious doing of God’s will in the Scriptures (see John 6:70-71; 13:10-11 and 18-19). The scripture in mind may well be Isaiah 57:4 LXX, which does mention the children of perdition. It is hard to be more precise about this mysterious verse.
Verse 13 Jesus turns towards the future. The present moment is first of all affirmed (“I am coming to you”). Then the end-time joy of the disciples comes into view. This has been emphasised since chapter 14: John 14:28; cf. 15:11; 16:20-24; 1 John 1:4. The disciples are to share Jesus’ very own joy.
Verse 14 Once again, we are looking back, starting with a strong egō. Word here is logos, so important in chapter 1. The perfect tense in Greek denotes the permanence of the gift. The “world” stands for the forces against Jesus and his followers, who share his destiny for the same reason. See John 15:18-25.
Verse 15 This is very similar to v. 11, only negatively expressed, this time. John has in mind not the abstracted principle of evil, but the personal evil one.
Verse 16 This verse repeats v. 14 substantially, taking us to the next petition.
Verse 17 Literally “consecrate” them in the truth. This is not cultic consecration but rather being make holy through Jesus’ message. Furthermore, truth here is not abstract veracity but God’s concrete loyal love and faithfulness in Jesus himself, taking us back to John 14:6. Cf. Psalm 119:142 above.
Verse 18 One of the powerful “just as” expressions in this Gospel, meaning the the mission of Jesus itself continues in the mission of the disciples.
Verse 19 Jesus own dedication or consecration of himself form the basis for the mission of the followers. Thus v. 19 complete what was begun in v. 17.
Pointers for prayer
1. What has your experience been of people praying on your behalf? Have you prayed for others? What difference does it all make?
2. Who are the people who cared for me and protected me? Have I been able to protect others? How does Jesus care for me and protect me?
3. Jesus wants all our joy to be complete and even to be contagious! The cost of discipleship and joy in believing are paradoxically bound in one: to live our calling fully is to discover life in abundance and, therefore, joy.
God of all nations, in the gift of your Son you have embraced the world with a love that takes away our sin and bestows perfect joy.
Grant to all who have been reborn in baptism fidelity in serving you and generosity in loving one another.
Grant this through Jesus Christ, the first-born from the dead, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit God for ever and ever. Amen.