JESUS PRAYS FOR HIS DISCIPLES
Acts 1:12-14; 1 Pt 4:13-16; Jn 17:1-11a
During his public ministry, Jesus was like any regular Jew. He wore the clothes of a regular Jew, spoke the language of a regular Jew (Aramaic in those days). Not much about him suggested that he was different from other people of his Jewish race. He did not wear a halo around his head, neither was he given to extreme manifestations of asceticism. He even remarked that because he ate and drank like everyone else—unlike John the Baptist—some people were calling him “a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Mtt 11:19).
From all indications, it seemed that Jesus wanted things that way. He did not want to stand out too glaringly or draw undue attention to himself. Even when he worked a miracle or healed someone, he often told the beneficiaries not to tell anyone what he had done. True, there were occasions when people acknowledge his teaching as different from that of their regular teachers, the Pharisees and the scribes, and occasions when they acclaimed him to be a prophet. But Jesus was not the only person to be accorded such recognition, as is evident from the example of John the Baptist, who was also acclaimed as a prophet.
All these things happened during the public ministry of Jesus. Now, at the end of that ministry, everything having been accomplished, Jesus prays, asking his Father to glorify him, as we read in the Gospel passage of today. He says, “Father, the hour has come…” In other words, the time had come to lift the veil covering his real identity as the long-awaited Messiah, the very Son of God.
Today’s gospel, drawn from chapter 17 of John’s, begins a long section which contains Jesus’ special prayer. In that prayer, Jesus reveals a lot about his nature and his inner self to us, and what he thinks about his disciples. The prayer falls neatly into three sections. In the first five verses, Jesus talks about his personal relationship with the Father. In verses 6-19, he prays for his disciples. And then in verses 20-26, he prays for the church, that is for those who would come to believe. He prays for you and me. Today, we treat the first 11 verses of that chapter 17.
- THE SAVIOUR’S NATURE
In the text before us, we see Jesus making claims to be equal to God. In Jn 17:5, he says, “ Glorify me, Father, with you, with the glory that I had with you before the world began”. Jesus claims to be eternal. In verse 10, he says, “All I have is yours, and all you have is mine.” Jesus claims equal authority with the Father. In verse 11, he says, “….so that they may be one as we are one.” He claims to be one (equal to) with God. And then in verse 24, he says, “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 before the creation of the world.” Jesus claims a right to glory. These are incredible claims.
These kinds of claims have come up over and over again in the Gospel. In fact, the very first words of John’s Gospel proclaim that Jesus “was with God and was God”! John states Jesus’ claims up front because the rest of the Gospel does not make much sense if you do not know who the central character is. These claims mean we can no longer be neutral about Jesus. Jesus is God.
- THE GLORY OF JESUS
Being God, the time has come for Jesus to be glorified. He asks the father to glorify him. This glorification would be accomplished through his paschal mystery, that is, the passion, death and resurrection. That would be the hour of glorification. But Jesus left it to his Father. He would not be the one to glorify himself; he would not be the one to go around telling people who he really was. The Father would do that for him. And that is precisely what Jesus is asking his Father to do, according to our Gospel reading today. He had, in fact, told the Jews earlier, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me” (Jn 8:54).
The glory of Jesus can refer to different things. Glory was something that Jesus had in heaven (John 12:41; 17:5, 24); it was visible in his earthly ministry (John 1:14; 8:54; 11:4; 13:32; 17:1, 5, 10, 22); and it was something he received when he ascended to the Father (Acts 3:13). “Glory” can generally refer to a distinguished quality that is evident in a person, and also refers to the honor intended for that person. Since Jesus is associated with God, and he is God, it is natural that he would reflect God’s glory. Jesus reveals his glory, in conjunction with the Father’s, in different ways: through his signs and miracles (John 2:11), his crucifixion (John 7:39; 2:16 & 23; 13:31-32), and in his being (Hebrews 1:3).
The transfiguration of Jesus gives us a preview glimpse of the fact that he is the victorious Lord who is coming again in great power and glory. Jesus will reign and his truth will triumph over evil. If we can gain a vision of the glory of Christ, it will enable us to follow him in the way of the cross.
This is God’s plan, purpose and design for the redemptive work of Jesus for mankind: “Therefore, God has highly exalted him [Christ] and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:9–11). His glory is the end for which God created the world. That glory is shown in Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
- JESUS PRAYS FOR HIS FRIENDS
In seeking his glorifications, Jesus prayed for his friends. That prayer begins with a description of his disciples in verses 6-10: “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”.
This is the picture that Jesus paints of them: they are special gifts from the Father; they have been obedient; they have been receptive and accommodating of the truth; they were certain of his nature; they brought Him glory. This is quite a positive description on the part of Jesus. Jesus could have prayed otherwise: “Lord, thank you for the disciples, but you know how dull they are. They do not even listen well. Help them to understand what I am trying to tell them. Help them to remain faithful, for I know how they are prone to run away when trouble comes. ” Truly, Jesus knew what was ahead. He knew about the upcoming denials. In fact, he warns Peter that he will deny him three times before the cock crows. Yet, in spite of this knowledge, none of this is included in the prayer. Everything he says is positive.
One can imagine how these words must have spurred the disciples in their difficult days! When they felt like giving up, these words certainly helped them to keep going. One can almost hear them saying to themselves at such difficult moments: “The Saviour believes in us!” “The Lord is counting on us!” Certainly, Jesus knew exactly what he was doing. He wanted to encourage rather than discourage. He wanted to spotlight their potentials not the failures. He wanted his disciples to keep looking forward, not back.
This is exactly the way that Jesus looks at you and me. The Lord sees what you CAN BE. He sees the potential and rejoices at what he can do through each and every one of us. While we are wallowing in self-pity over present difficulties, Jesus celebrates our future victories. While we are dragged down by past sin, Jesus is rejoicing over our future faithfulness. Jesus is, indeed, our best friend. Sing, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”. We sing this song quite often. Do we really believe that he is a true friend?
- SEEKING OUR OWN PERSONAL “GLORY”
If we are honest with ourselves and with God, we would have to admit that the thing that most often drives us is a desire to glorify OUR name. We want to gain something for ourselves: praise, honor, promotion, financial reward, merit, good standing in the eyes of the world. There is a real temptation to look for recognition, public acclaim or, to use the biblical expression, “GLORY”. We may even be tempted to demand it as a right. And if we do not get it, we take offence, maybe even take it out on someone. (Give examples!) That is the temptation to glorify ourselves. We should resist it. Like Jesus, we would not glorify ourselves but look to God alone to glorify us. We should leave God to decide what recognition we get. And if it should please God that we do not get any from the people around us, so be it!
It should be borne in mind that the glory that we give ourselves or the one that other people give us, is ephemeral. It is short-lives; it does not last. It is here today, and gone tomorrow. To use the expression of Jesus, the glory that we give to ourselves is “NOTHING”. It is only the glory that comes from God that lasts, even beyond this early life into eternity.
Jesus, our Lord, knows us through and through. He loves us as we are. He acknowledges us, each and every one us, regardless of our past. All he wants us to do is to acknowledge his glory (NOT OURS) and proclaiming it to the world, by spending time alone with him, shaking off our sluggishness in spiritual matters, exalting him above all else and obeying him in all that we do.