A Reflection on John 17:1-11
(for the Seventh Sunday of Easter)
After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.
‘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. (John 17:1-11, NRSV).
It is a wonderful thought that Jesus prayed for his disciples before they faced the challenges of Easter.
We easily and naturally focus on the suffering of Jesus. The pain and danger, however, were not exclusively his. The path to the glory Jesus refers to will be one of division, fear, and uncertainty for this band of brothers.
They run the very real risk of being dis-banded.
In this prayer Jesus does not to focus on the coming suffering. Rather, his gaze is fixed beyond the events of Easter Friday, and even Resurrection Sunday, to his ascension and heavenly crowning. Jesus prays in the hope of heaven.
And this hope is, seemingly, not only for him. It is also for the disciples.
Jesus’ language for this is ‘eternal life’. This life-beyond-life is found in relationship with God. Jesus believes his relationship-establishing journey from heaven to earth is finding fulfilment in these nervous, uncomprehending, disciples. They have certainly not, as yet, grasped the events that are now so near.
But Jesus is prone to see faith where others may not. He can see that the Father’s name is ‘known’ by them; that they have ‘kept’ God’s word, and; that ‘they have received’ and ‘known’ that Jesus is from heaven. Perhaps it takes a well trained eye, but these men have ‘believed’.
And so the one who refused to extinguish the ‘smouldering wick’ prays to God for the protection of this fledgling faith. Jesus will soon be taken from them. They will glimpse the surrounded lamb’s desperation. Soldiers and nails will cause them to scatter.
But Jesus has boldly asked for the preservation of their oneness. He has kept them together this far. It is now the turn of the Father.
And if this divine parent is anything like the Son this prayer is entrusting them to the best, most gracious, and gentle hands in the universe.