Following this morning's reflection, we took some time to follow in Jesus’ example and pray. You may find the Thy Kingdom Come material at the bottom of this blog post helpful if you would like to do the same.
John 17 | NIV
After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began. 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. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For 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. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. I 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. While 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. 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. I 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. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.
My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one — I in them and you in me — so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”
I don't want to talk very much about the passage today, because it seems to me that Jesus is not just praying, he is also modelling prayer. And so after a few brief reflections, I want to invite us to follow his example and pray.
This prayer comes at the end of the farewell discourse, which we have heard passages from over the past two weeks, and ends the final meal Jesus shares with his disciples before he leaves for Gethsemane, where he will once again pray before being arrested. He has commanded the disciples to love, he has called them to remain in God by following him, he has promised the Spirit as counsellor and companion, and now he commits his life and legacy in prayer. His final words are heard by the disciples, but they are not directed to them. Perhaps that is a reminder that our most fundamental relationship is with God, the one who made and keeps us in love. It is that connection, which must be rooted in prayer, that gives life to everything else.
I think we can be honest that this prayer isn't the easiest thing to read or listen to. From the age of about seven, I wanted to be an English teacher, and I think if a student had handed me this as a piece of work, I'd have sent it back covered in red pen. There is so much repetition of ideas and language that it can be hard to keep track of what is being said. But then this is a stream of consciousness not an essay, and so perfection is not the point. One of the things I struggle with most in prayer is wrestling my thoughts into some kind of coherence, and so to hear Jesus going back and forth and round in circles is actually quite reassuring. Prayer does not have to be great rhetoric, only authentic expression.
When Jesus says "I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me", I don't think he is saying that he does not care about the world, or suggesting that some are chosen while others are not, only that his disciples are his focus in that moment. There’s something very human about that. Jesus has travelled with the ones God has given him for three years, and he must have loved them very deeply and very personally. He will have known what they liked to eat and which of them snored and who would laugh loudest at his jokes. It is natural that he would have a particular concern for them in the final hours before his death, knowing the grief and fear and confusion they would experience. In the same way we should absolutely be caring and praying for the world, but at the same time there will be people that we hold particularly close, and I think Jesus’ prayer should encourage us to really commit to holding them before God.
At the very end of the prayer, Jesus says "I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known, in order that the love you have for me may be in them, and that I myself may be in them." Here we see a return of the themes of revelation and love and abiding that have been woven through the farewell discourse. God is made known in Christ, and in following him we learn to live in God and live in love. There are a few details missing, but that’s not a bad introduction to Christian faith, and one that I find utterly compelling.