Listen to the audio of today’s Reflection:

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John 17:6-19

 Jesus Prays for His Disciples

     6“I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. 7Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. 8For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. 9I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. 10All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. 11I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. 12While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.

     13“I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. 14I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. 15My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. 18As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. 19For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.

 This reading is actually made up of parts of the listed gospel readings from Monday and Tuesday. For some reason, the editors of the lectionary chose to divide the seventeenth chapter in a way that strikes me as pretty illogical, so we’re dividing it in the same way the editors of our NIV Bible did.

Like a number of our gospel readings over the last week, this is a part of John’s account of Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples. After he washed the feet of the disciples and after he talked to them about the coming of the Holy Spirit, the importance of their love for one another and fact that one of them would betray him that very night, Jesus then prayed in their presence.

This strikes me as extremely important. Our understanding is that Jesus was (and still is) a part of the Trinity. When he was born on earth in the event we call “the incarnation,” this was God assuming human form among us. So when Jesus prayed in the presence of his disciples, he was allowing those disciples to listen in on the thoughts of God. And because the apostle John and his own disciples remembered and recorded what Jesus said in that great prayer, we get to share in that experience of listening to the thoughts of God.

In the first part of the prayer – verses 1 through 5 – Jesus says that the events that were about to occur would make the glory of God known in the world. As you might remember from earlier Reflections on passages from John, one of the themes of this gospel is that his death on the cross would be the ultimate revelation of God’s glory. Jesus several times spoke about being glorified when he was “lifted up.”

Today’s reading is the second part of that prayer. In this part, Jesus prays for his disciples. And it strikes me as very important that we look closely at what he prayed for them.

He begins by saying that they had heard and embraced what he had taught them, and he says that his teaching was in fact the teaching of God. So even though they would fail him in many ways through their human weakness and sinfulness, even though they would deny him and doubt him in that days ahead, Jesus understands that his teachings had been impressed upon the disciples well enough that they would be able to carry them into the world and start the movement we call the church.

Jesus also says that in this case, he is praying for his disciples, and not for the world at large. It seems to me he is making the point that he thinks of his followers as being separate from the world, in a way. His followers were to represent a counter-culture in the world, not fully fitting in or embracing the world’s values. (This, by the way, is one of the main themes of the collection of teachings we call “The Sermon on the Mount.”)

The way Jesus puts it here is that his followers “are not of the world any more than I am of the world.”

Jesus also prays for God’s continuing protection for the disciples. Just as Jesus had drawn them together around himself by his divine power, he now prays that God’s power would continue to hold them together as a body. Jesus points out that they will face hostility and opposition in the world, and he doesn’t really pray that they would be spared that opposition. Instead, he prays that God will empower them to continue the ministry he was passing on to them. Jesus also prays that his followers will be sanctified, and the Greek word that’s translated as sanctified means “made holy” or “set aside for sacred use,” according to the editors of the NIV Bible.

So the bottom line is that Jesus prayed for his followers on the last night of his earthly ministry, and prayed for God’s continuing participation in their life and mission. But his prayer wasn’t that they be spared trouble, but rather that they be strengthened and guided to work in unity for the establishment of the kingdom.

Jesus also prayed in this prayer that his followers might have “the full measure of my joy in them.” So in spite of the inevitable troubles and challenges of advancing the mission of Jesus in a world whose values are very different and even in conflict with those he taught, we can still experience the joy of knowing that we are adopted children of the creator of the universe, beloved brothers and sisters and friends of Jesus, working at his side to bring his peaceful reign to fulfillment “on earth, as it is in heaven.”

Let’s pray. Lord, we thank you for the gift of Jesus, for coming into the world among us to teach us and show us the meaning of the abundant life you have in mind for us. In all that we say and do, let us glorify you by living and serving in obedience to Jesus and in imitation of him. Amen.

Grace and Peace,

Henry

(The other readings for today are Psalms 66 and 98; Daniel 2:1-16; and I John 2:12-17.)