(for the Seventh Sunday of Easter, May 17, 2015)
‘I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.’ (John 17:6-19, NRSV).
The above passage is a prayer. More than that, it is a final prayer. Jesus’ last plea to God before this little community is shaken by events of the cross.
So it is a privilege for the disciples to listen in. Indeed, it reads as though Jesus is speaking as much to the disciples as to the Father.
In our hands it also becomes an opportunity for us to eves-drop on this divine conversation!
Jesus’ prayer contains a repeated theme: ‘gave’ and ‘given’ occur nine (9) times in this short passage. In doing so Jesus acknowledges the gift that the disciples are to him. A treasure entrusted by the Father to the Son. They are loved.
They are also, however, in imminent danger. Soon Jesus will be ‘glorified’. He will no longer dwell with the disciples in the same way he has over the past few years. He is returning home.
And in doing so, the precious ones Jesus gathered will be left vulnerable.
And so Jesus prays.
Essentially, his is a prayer for their protection and unity: ‘Holy Father, protect them…so that they may be one, as we are one.’
The cross will scatter what the Messiah gathered. Dispersed disciples in a world that no longer recognises them. This path is a clear reflection of the way Jesus has been among them: he too, did ‘not belong to the world’.
And just like him, the disciples too are being ‘sent’ into this now alien world.
In fact, there are a number of parallels between Jesus and the disciples in this passage: ‘that they may be one, as we are one’; ‘they do not belong to the word, as I do not belong to the world’; ‘as you have sent me…so I have sent them…’; ‘I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.’
And perhaps that is Jesus’ very reason for inviting the disciples to tune into this prayer. After all, there is every possibility that in doing so, the disciples – and John’s readers – may hear Jesus’ familiar call once again: ‘Follow Me’.
They are already on the path. This is a prayer that they may continue.