John 17: The Priestly Prayer of Christ
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Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and said,
“Father, the hour has come.
Give glory to your son, so that your son may glorify you,
just as you gave him authority over all people,
so that your son may give eternal life to all you gave him.
Now this is eternal life,
that they should know you, the only true God,
and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ.
I glorified you on earth
by accomplishing the work that you gave me to do.
Now glorify me, Father, with you,
with the glory that I had with you before the world began.
“I revealed your name to those whom you gave me out of the world.
They belonged to you, and you gave them to me,
and they have kept your word.
Now they know that everything you gave me is from you,
because the words you gave to me I have given to them,
and they accepted them and truly understood that I came from you,
and they have believed that you sent me.
I pray for them.
I do not pray for the world but for the ones you have given me,
because they are yours, and everything of mine is yours
and everything of yours is mine,
and I have been glorified in them.
And now I will no longer be in the world,
but they are in the world, while I am coming to you.”
John, in his piecing together of this prayer, puts together all of these different elements of theology which are part of Jesus’ prayers, part of Jesus’ preaching, part of John’s reflection on Jesus’ preaching.
They’re put together in this really deep way that just keeps building and building and building as we get the most profound parts of the Christian message and reflection that you can possibly imagine.
Today, of course, the prayer is starting off with Jesus praying, really, for his disciples. He’ll continue to pray for them. It’s almost like He’s giving them a blessing through this prayer that He’s saying to the Father for them. They really don’t know how to pray yet. They really don’t know the implications of the life that they’re going to get into.
Yet Jesus knows that He’s going to leave them. He’s going to leave them with the Holy Spirit, as He’s explained. So now He’s asking the Father to bring his special protection on these apostles. It’s so ironic, in a way, that it lines up in the church calendar that Paul’s premonition through the Holy Spirit that He’s going to be imprisoned, persecuted, and killed, martyred… He knows it’s coming.
Jesus is also trying to prepare his disciples by asking these special prayers to the Father to give them the protection they need, the courage they need, the wisdom they need, the fortitude they’re going to need. He’s praying for every single virtue that they’re going to need in order to go out on mission through the Holy Spirit, but without Him. In His name, yes, but without His presence, at least not in the same way.
Of course, we see Jesus’ deep love of His apostles. He’s not treating them like pawns. It’s not like a pragmatic prayer: “Lord, help them to be successful.” Now, that could be a Spitzerian prayer, but of course, that’s not Jesus’ prayer.
Jesus’ prayer is, “Yes, I would like them to be successful. That is a good thing. I want them to get out and to have the confidence in the Holy Spirit to bring my word to the nations. I want that.” But above all, He cares about them.
He wants them to stay faithful. He wants them to appropriate these virtues in the deepest part of their hearts so they will freely be able to go out, and with courage, with temperance, and, of course, armed with this love that is the central theme of John’s gospel, to love one another as I have loved you.
John 17 and What Jesus Wants for Us
Armed with these things, the apostles are going to go out there, and they are going to be successful, but above all, they’re going to be safe. Jesus wants them to be safe. Jesus wants them to be saved.
He knows He can’t protect them from martyrdom. He’s already warned them in His last discourse in John 15 and 16. He’s warned them, “This is going to be tough. Only one of you is going to survive. The rest of you, you’re all going to be martyred.” He doesn’t say it that explicitly, but He tells them it’s coming. “Don’t expect something to happen to you that’s not going to happen to me.”
In other words, “You’re going to follow me in the path, not only of the cross and bitter fighting against you, but you’re going to have to follow me even in the path of martyrdom. You’re going to have to follow me in the path of sacrificing your whole life for the Kingdom of Heaven and the preaching of love.”
The irony is that to preach love in the world that doesn’t want to hear about love will get the bitterness of resentment and the cross.
But Jesus says, “Have confidence. Don’t let your faith be shaken. No matter what the troubles are, no matter how you think, ‘This is it,'” et cetera, et cetera, “Don’t let your faith or your hope be shaken. Just stick with the program as long as you can stick with it. Don’t worry. I’m sending my advocate, my Holy Spirit, to give you the words that you’re going to need in order to defend the faith. Don’t worry.”
“You’re going to experience the cross. Don’t let it shake you up. It’s just a short time, and then eventually, I promise you, you will inherit the very Kingdom of love, the very Kingdom of joy. Your love and your joy will be complete because your joy will be my joy if you stick with the program, even if it’s painful, even if it just causes so many different kinds of fear, if you just stick with the program, stay with the faith, stay with hope.”
“Do not abandon love. Don’t abandon these three theological virtues. Don’t worry. You will be successful if only by your example, if not by your deeds.” Of course they all were very successful. “But more than that, you will be saved and join the ranks of the saints who constitute the very communion of saints in the Kingdom of God.”