Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. John 17:11
I ask you to protect them from the evil one. John 17:15
Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. John 17:17
Today our Gospel[i] ready is a portion of the prayer that Jesus prayed for his disciples and for those who would come to believe because of their testimony. So this prayer is Jesus’ prayer for us as we have come to believe because to the testimony of the original disciples. I find though the prayer and the speech before it sounds more like a tortured philosophical discourse, if we dig into it we experience Jesus’ love for us in the prayer.
Remember this prayer is set at the Last Supper. Jesus knows he will suffer and die. He also knows that ongoing genuine discipleship will be costly for all who follow him. As we know many of the first Christians suffered persecution and death because of their faith. Now in 21st Century Australia our only suffering is perhaps ridicule for continuing to believe antiquated bible stories or the shame of being part of the wider Church that failed to protect children from abuse. May be the real of cost of discipleship is the same as it has always been, the cost of being different.
In an early commentary on this passage David Lose explains “the world” as it is used in John’s Gospel. He says:
This world is captive to a spirit alien to God’s spirit. It is animated by a sense of scarcity instead of abundance, fear instead of courage, and selfishness instead of sacrificial love. Jesus — the one who came to bring abundant life, does not run away in the face of danger, and lays down his life for the sheep — offers an alternative spirit and reality.
We can add to that list violence rather than compassion.
When we immerse ourselves deeper and deeper into the waters of Baptism we will become more and more different from “the world” and more and more like Jesus. Animated by abundance, generosity will be normal. Animated by courage we will speak out on behalf of the vulnerable. Animated by sacrificial love we will reach out to those in need. Animated by compassion we will sit down with the enemy and discover their needs. These things, generosity, courage, love and compassion appear to be celebrated by “the world” but when we live a life abiding in these things “the world” pushes back.
Jesus prays for his disciples. He prays for us. He prays, Holy Father, protect them …, so that they may be one. As we celebrate mother’s day this weekend this prayer sounds like the prayer of every mother.
“Lord God, keep my children safe, as they venture off to pre-school or high school on the first day, or as they start driving by themselves with their new P plates on the car. It is good that we can have a strong sense of God being like every loving mother, wanting the very best protection that will see their little ones flourish.
For Jesus part of the reason for protection is so that they will be one, as he is with the Holy Father. I was talking to one of our parishioners on Friday whose son died on mother’s day. I had a sense that a part of her died on that day. The mother and her husband and the children have a bond which gives us an insight into the oneness of Jesus and the Holy Father. Sadly many of us know too well the depth of pain through death or divorce when that oneness has been shattered. Jesus prays for us, that we might know as his disciples the joy of deep and abiding unity founded in love and humility.
Jesus prays that we will be protected from the evil one. The phrase, “the evil one” is short hand for that spirit that has this world captive. It is the very thing in humanity that creates disunity and generates tribalism and rampant individualism. It is the thing that sees violence as normal, as a way of solving problems. It is that which fosters fear and selfishness. I dare say that most of our mothers prayed that we might be protected from the evils of this world, the bullies at school, the temptation to abuse alcohol and drugs and a multitude of other evils. The Holy Father doesn’t remove all of these things from our life any more than our parents can. But the love of God deep within gives us the courage to stand up to bullies and perhaps to befriend them. God’s love helps us to be disinterested in the drugs that offer escape from reality.
Jesus prays that the Holy Father will sanctify us in the truth. Sanctify means to make us holy. God’s word is the truth. We become holy as we are immersed in God’s love. We become more confident of that love from the word of God. I don’t just mean the Scriptures as the word of God. It’s the word coming through prayer and through our gathering with other Christians. It’s comes through celebrating with awe and wonder the beauty of creation. We become holy as we experience the love of God and God’s word bubbling up around us. Now I don’t know how many mums pray for their children to become holy. They are probably thinking they know their children to well to pray for them to be holy. Just safe, and doing well would be good. May be we don’t pray for holiness because we have a false notion of holiness that is squeaky clean and always perfect. Holiness is earthy, robust and with a good sense of humour. I often pray for three things for people, good health, happiness and holiness.
Now so that we don’t just go home and forget that Jesus prayed for us and is praying for us we are going to do a little exercise for homework. Take one of the note books on the pew, tear of half a page. Write on the front one word for what you would like Jesus to know that you need him to hold in his prayer. You might write pain or safety. That one word will remind you that Jesus already knows you have pain in your knees or that you worry about the safety of your children. In a moment we will put that piece of paper in your pocket or hand bag. During the week take it out and be reminded that Jesus is praying for your needs.
Before you put it away write on the other side of the piece of paper a word for someone special that you care about. Again just one word, it will remind you that they need to find a new job or that they have an exam coming up. You might like add one more word on the back page, mum. It will remind you to give thanks for the blessing she has been in your life. Don’t leave the piece of paper in your shirt pocket when you put it in the wash, transfer it to the next pocket or the next handbag. Each time you notice it, be reminded that Jesus is praying for you and your special needs, and be reminded to pray for the people in your life. Hopefully you will notice the piece of paper a half a dozen times a day.
May the Lord Jesus bless us and keep us.
The Lord make his face to shine upon us.
The Lord Jesus lift up his countenance upon us and give us peace.
[i] (For further reflection)
In John’s Gospel we have four whole chapters set in the context of the Last Supper. It starts with the story of Jesus washing the disciple’s feet, and then there is a large speech by Jesus finishing with a long prayer. The other three Gospels as we know are quite different to John. Matthew, Mark and Luke give us the essential way that Jesus transformed a Passover meal and left his disciples and us with a new meal. No longer do we just remember and bring to the present the great release from slavery of Moses and the people of Israel. Our Eucharistic meal encapsulates the whole redemptive work of God focused on Jesus on the cross.
John was writing some forty years or more after Mark and the other evangelists. We can safely assume he knew their Gospels and that his audience also knew their Gospels. John is keen to stretch the understanding of his audience as recounts the Gospel. He uses words and ideas and styles of speech from the world of philosophy and literature to communicate the Gospel. The action of the foot washing, the last words in the speech and this prayer create a strong picture of Jesus being in control of his destiny. John wants his audience and us to know that Jesus is the King of Kings in union with the God of all creation bringing redemption to the world. And yes, not only is “the world” about to reject him and crucify him but it will treat the disciples with the same disrespect.