28 May 2017

John 17:1-11

“Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.” (v. 11)

Psalm: Psalm 68


We celebrated Jesus' Ascension on 25 May (link) and now are eagerly awaiting Pentecost next week. And yet, on this final Sunday of the Easter season, we continue to look back to what is usually known as Jesus' Farewell Discourse (John 13-17). Chapters 13-16 are addressed to the disciples and contain both heartfelt reassurance to them and extraordinary teaching, that through love humans might know unity with God. Perhaps, after Jesus' departure from the Earth, it is important to recall what his bodily presence revealed. 

In this passage, "the hour" that Jesus said had come (verse 1) is the time of his Passion and he began to address God in prayer, which continued those themes. Jesus speaks much of the mutuality of Father and Son - they mutually give and receive glory (verse 1), work (verse 4), words (verse 8) and beloved people (verse 6). His work has been to reveal the Father through himself, a revelation which is possible because Father and Son are one, and so to know the Son is to know the Father. Now his prayer is that his disciples, and indeed all of us, might share in that oneness (verse 11).

Often this has been read as a superficial prayer for Christian unity; certainly this is desirable, but Jesus' intention goes far deeper than this. The life and death of Jesus Christ reveal the most perfect putting together of human and divine that is God's desire for each of us. Jesus has just spoken of the vine and the branches (John 15:1-17), God is living within each one of us; the only difference is the degree to which we are both aware of God within us and enjoying God within us. To know that presence perfectly is eternal life (verse 3). In Jesus we see that eternal life living among us in a relationship of perfect reciprocity with God - Jesus receives all things from God and returns all things to God.

The world of which Jesus speaks (verse 11) is all that would encourage us to see ourselves as separate from God, all that fosters our sense of pride and independence; and we do indeed need protection from that.

In this passage, on the brink of his crucifixion, Jesus called upon God to "glorify" him (v. 1); as John's account continues it is clear he is redefining our understanding of 'glory' to be much more in line with the Hebrew sense of the presence of God. Jesus indicates that the true glory of God is revealed in God's oneness with the broken body of a dying human abandoned to torture. He reveals a God persistently remaining in union with beloved humanity at its very weakest and worst. That is the real meaning of glory.

To Ponder

  • God is living within you. What practices do you or could you use to bring yourself into awareness of your oneness with God?
  • What gives you a sense of pride? In what areas of your life do you feel you have had success as a result of your own accomplishments? How could you surrender these to the ultimate power of God in you?

Bible notes author

The Revd Anna Bishop

Anna Bishop is a wife, mother and Methodist presbyter. She is currently without appointment while her two small children teach her a spirituality of interruption! She is living in the Salisbury circuit, where she leads Baby-interrupted Bible Study and Little Blessings, a service of worship for babies, toddlers, pre-school children and their carers.