The Church Year and the Lectionary Commentary – The 7th Sunday of Easter (Day 4)
6 “I have revealed your name to the people you gave me from this world. They were yours and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. 8 This is because I gave them the words that you gave me, and they received them. They truly understood that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me.
9 “I’m praying for them. I’m not praying for the world but for those you gave me, because they are yours. 10 Everything that is mine is yours and everything that is yours is mine; I have been glorified in them. 11 I’m no longer in the world, but they are in the world, even as I’m coming to you. Holy Father, watch over them in your name, the name you gave me, that they will be one just as we are one. 12 When I was with them, I watched over them in your name, the name you gave to me, and I kept them safe. None of them were lost, except the one who was destined for destruction, so that scripture would be fulfilled. 13 Now I’m coming to you and I say these things while I’m in the world so that they can share completely in my joy. 14 I gave your word to them and the world hated them, because they don’t belong to this world, just as I don’t belong to this world. 15 I’m not asking that you take them out of this world but that you keep them safe from the evil one. 16 They don’t belong to this world, just as I don’t belong to this world. 17 Make them holy in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 I made myself holy on their behalf so that they also would be made holy in the truth.
“I’m praying for them,” Jesus tells his Father in this, his great High Priestly Prayer in John 17. A verse after our reading for today ends Jesus expands the “them” he prays for to include not just those who followed him in his earthly ministry, but also “. . . those who believe in me because of their word” (John 17:20). Do you get what that means? Jesus is praying for us – you and me!
What an inestimable privilege – Jesus himself praying for us! Ponder that for a few moment before you continue reading. Jesus prays for you! Little ole me makes it on to Jesus’ pray list. How about that! What does that do for your relationship with Jesus?
Whatever you’re up to in life and ministry for Jesus falls under the cover of his prayer here. For what does he pray? In other words, assuming that Jesus’ prayers are answered (!), what can we count on as we seek to live his way and follow his will in the world?
In the first place, Jesus prays for God’s watch care over us (v.11). We belong to him and since he is ascending to the Father while we remain in the world (in which we live but to which we do not belong, v.14-15) he commends us to the Father’s watch care.
Jesus next prays for our unity. Just as the Father and Son are united in every way, so Jesus prays that we too be united (v.11). Under the Father’s watch care, and in the unity of being his people, Jesus asks that we fully share his joy (v.13).
Watch care, unity, and joy – powerful gifts for a people in need of such resources!
And Jesus reveals that need as he continues to pray. He names it as the hatred of the world and the attacks of the evil one (vv.14-15). Life in a fallen world lived as a follower of Jesus will be contested life, as was Jesus’ life. The world (as the aggregate of people and systems opposed to God’s will and way) and the evil one are constantly seeking to deflect, divert, and ultimately destroy God’s people.
What Jesus prays for this contested life of his disciples is that God make us “holy in the truth” (v.17). This is not a petition that God’s people become moral paragons of virtue! Holiness in the Bible has first and foremost to do with being set apart for a special purpose. It does not mean we’re better than anyone else. It means that God has decided to use us to bless his world. And we have to embrace and internalize this calling. And that’s what Jesus asks his Father to do for us – to solidify and deepen that sense of identity through his Word to us (v.17).
But what does that mean? In my view, it at least means, embracing and internalizing that we are God’s people, heirs of Abraham and Sarah, to whom God gave the great threefold promise that governs the biblical story in Gen.12:1-3: that God would get a great people through them, God would bless that people, and God would bless everyone else through them. It’s this identity the world and the evil one seek to shake from us and disabuse us of. And it’s at least this identity Jesus asks the Father to protect and nurture in us.
This is the essential prelude to Jesus’ great petition that God send us out and he had sent Jesus himself. For Jesus is “the” great embodiment of one who has fully embraced and internalized this identity as one set apart for God’s special use. We, his people, are sent forth in that same identity and for that same use. We too, then, must ask God to protect and nurture us as we grow into all this.
This, then, is Jesus’ great prayer for us, for me and for you. Not only is it terribly reassuring that Jesus himself prays for us, but what he prays for for us gives us clear insight into what is going on and what is important and urgent for us to attend too.
Is there, can there be a greater gift to us than this?