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Jesus’ Last Prayer for his Friends

June 13, 2014

John 17: 1-11

This is Jesus last prayer for his friends before his departure. On such occasions prayer is appropriate. On all sorts of occasions prayer is appropriate, I guess. When do you stop to pray with others? It’s awkward isn’t it, if people aren’t expecting to pray. It’s like we need a special excuse. We have habits like praying before meals, so that becomes accepted. But what about other times? I wonder, have we lost the art of public prayer? Perhaps we need excuses to pause and wait on God in our everyday life? Is there a gap between public prayer and private prayer? Is it important to give expression together to our dependence on God? And when we lose the habit, how do we regain it without being manipulative or specially pious? Perhaps we shouldn’t need excuses to pray, but I suspect we lack confidence. I do.


So this is a prayer. Like all of John’s Gospel, but probably more so, though, this is also a theological reflection by the gospel writer, John. No one was sitting by taking notes when Jesus prayed. There were just memories that Jesus prayed, possibly memories of the themes of his prayers, but more significantly, memories of his sense of mission, his sense of what he was doing and how that related to God. And from these memories John composes a summary of Jesus praying.


Let’s think about that summary. Jesus looks up to heaven, and says “Father” – Abba. His relationship to God is one of intimate trust. This is the God he has been imitating all his life. His life has been an expression of the grace of Abba. And now, Jesus senses, ‘his hour has come’. The culmination of all that obedience… the final chapter in that lived expression of God’s life is upon him. And what matters to Jesus, as John understands it and recalls it, is that Abba is known, Abba is glorified. If God as the gracious one, the giver of life, if God’s self-giving is to be known to others, then Jesus must be enabled to carry it through to the end. The Son must be given the power to love to the end, so that the Father’s love will be known and the Father glorified. So he prays “Glorify the Son so that the Son may glorify you.” As the future church would say, there is an interchange of giving going on between Jesus and his Abba which is of the very essence of God. Giving and receiving is not just something God does, its something God is.


Then he gives thanks for his friends. These are the ones God has given him. Not the select few who will make good leaders in the future, not the smart and the good looking, who have chosen him… but the rag-tag bunch that God has given him. (In this sense Jesus is not unlike you and me… except we tend to be on the look out for better people with whom to spend our lives). The God who has given Jesus a universal mission in relation to all people, has nevertheless given him these particular people with whom to share his time on earth, these particular people with whom to share eternal life, and only because he shares eternal life with these particular people will the rest of the world also know eternal life.


Tell me, what is your definition of eternal life? [feedback]


Here Jesus gives a definition of eternal life. Did you notice it in our reading? “And this is eternal life, that they may know you the only true God and Jesus the anointed one whom you have sent”. Not live forever in heaven, but know God and messiah Jesus. Not ‘know’ in the sense of having a clear rational understanding of God. Not know about God but know God. Throughout the Old and the New Testament this same thought is there, that although God is beyond our understanding, knowing God in the sense of participating in God’s life, interacting with God, is nevertheless what it’s all about. Eternal life is knowing God through knowing Jesus. As we enter into the life of Jesus and know him, so we enter into God’s life. This IS eternal life. Literally ‘zoe aionios’ – the life of the age to come – is given now.


Jesus is praying for them and for us… Jesus did not leave behind a body of teaching in a book (like the Qur’an) or a program to be followed. Jesus didn’t write anything. But what he did leave behind was a community. He makes it clear that he doesn’t pray directly for the world at this point. Sure it is clear in John’s gospel that the point of it all is that the world will be saved (John 3:17 – Jesus says to Nicodemus that he came from God so that ‘the world’ might be saved) but Jesus knows that God’s way of engaging the world is a community that has experienced and continues to experience eternal life. The community of the age to come lives now… and Jesus prays for them. A community who have seen the glory of God in the life of Jesus, a community who are kept in the ‘name of God’. Jesus last prayer is for us who make up the ‘left behind’ community – who by, virtue of their knowledge of God, are, for Jesus, nothing less than the hope of the world. And so he prays for us, in the words of one translation ‘keep a firm hold on them through the power of your name, which you have given me’


This week someone said to me, ‘Bruce, I have a problem, when I get annoyed and angry I keep taking the Lord’s name in vain’. I don’t think I had anything particularly helpful to say at the time. But it got me thinking about this concept of ‘the name of God’.


Jesus prays to the Father that he would keep his friends ‘in your name’. It’s a big concept. It’s not really about words, is it? My friend was thinking about the 10 Commandments and the one ‘thou shalt not take the name of the Lord in vain’. There is a Jewish tradition which does focus on the word itself… and makes the name of God something to be feared and never uttered aloud, YHWH.


Jesus not only speaks God’s name, he, in a sense, demythologises it. He takes away their fear by living out the life of God among them (this is where we can’t read John’s gospel understanding that the name of God is more than a word). He changes their understanding of God’s very nature. John makes it very clear, the inner character of God, the Word of God (The Name), becomes flesh, takes time among us. YHWH means ‘I am who I am’ or ‘I will be who I will be’. John’s Jesus rubs it in: I am the light of the world; I am the bread of life; I am the way; I am the truth; I am the life; I am the good shepherd...” Jesus exposes God’s name, demonstrates God’s name… but according to John, not by claiming glory for himself but by giving his life in shame, and giving glory to God who will raise him up. The name of God is manifest as and in gracious humility.


The interesting thing here is that these friends, this community that Jesus leaves behind, get to share in this same glory, they get to manifest the same name of God, they get to give their life away for others also. And as they do so they will be united in the same way that the Father and the Son are united. Not by being numerically identical, of course, but by giving and receiving our lives from one another.


Jesus prays for us… that we will give and receive our lives from each other… and as we do that we will be one body. Not by agreeing on everything. Not by being identical to each other… but by letting go of the possession, the possessiveness that we feel about our life and our self. Which is harder… to give your life to someone else or to receive it from someone else?

We like being original… being the origin of our own life. We don’t like receiving our life from others. We have learnt to deeply value independence.


It seems to me that things like this (independence) are a better example of what it means to take the name of God ‘in vain’ than yelling out ‘God’ or ‘Jesus’ when we hit our finger with a nail.

We bear, in our body, in our life together, the name of God – even the glory of God, or Jesus prayer has not been answered.















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