THE SAVIOUR PRAYS FOR HIS FRIENDS
Acts 1:15-17, 20, 20-26; 1 Jn 4:11-16; Jn 17:11-19
Friendship is one of the most valuable commodities of life. The closest friends Jesus had were His disciples. These were the men he spent the most time with; the ones he took time to teach patiently and thoroughly. These were the men who cared for him when he was weary and celebrated with him in the times of victory.
Today, 7th Sunday of Easter, the Sunday after Ascension and the Sunday before Pentecost, the Gospel contains the prayer Jesus prayed for his friends. What he prays for is very moving, and very applicable to ourselves. Today, also, we the Catholic Church in Cameroon celebrates the Solemnity of Our Lady, Queen of the Apostles, Principal patroness of Cameroon.
1. JESUS’ VIEW ABOUT HIS DISCIPLES
In Jn 17:6-10, Jesus say: “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.” Jesus let us know that his disciples are special gifts from the Father. They have been obedient; they are accepting of the truth; they are certain of his nature; they bring him glory. This is quite a positive description!
Imagine that Jesus had prayed thus: “Lord, thank you for the disciples but you know how dull and stupid they are. Help them to understand what I’m trying to tell them. Help them to remain faithful, I know how they are prone to run away when the trouble comes.” In truth, 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 rooster crows. Yet, in spite of this knowledge, none of this is included in the prayer. It is all positive.
These words certainly spurred the disciples on, in the difficult days! When they felt like giving up would not those words have helped them keep going? One can almost hear them saying: “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 looking forward, not back.
This is the way 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 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 your future faithfulness. Jesus is our best friend! We sing, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” but do you believe it?
What a friend we have in Jesus
All our sins and griefs to bear
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer
Oh, what peace we often forfeit
Oh, what needless pain we bear
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer
2. JESUS’ PRAYER FOR HIS FRIENDS
Jesus asks the Father for four things regarding his disciples. In the text we read: “Holy Father, keep them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are one.” (Jn 17:11) The word for “keep” means to “guard” or to “protect”. But there is still an unanswered question: What does Jesus want them to be protected from? It is not the Devil and his powers because he mentions that specifically in Jn 17:15. Herewith are the four prayer intentions of Jesus for his disciples:
a) Whatever it is that he wants them to be protected from will certainly be a threat to their ONENESS AND UNITY. A close reading of the text reveals: Jesus prays that the Father protect THEM FROM THEMSELVES. The greatest threat to unity is sinful human nature. Jesus saw it in the disciples before. We recall that they once argued over: who was the greatest? Who should sit at the right and left of Jesus in glory? Who should wash the feet? Why could they not do certain miracles? Should they let the children come to see Jesus? This is human nature!
As human beings, we are naturally drawn to bitterness, jealousy, self-centeredness, pettiness, gossip, grudges, anger, prejudice and much more. Each of these things can wreck any relationships, worse still, the oneness of the Church. Jesus is praying that the Father would protect them from such division. If the disciples were going to carry the message to the world, they needed to work together. So should we, also!
The apostle Paul states this idea more positively: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph. 4:32-5:2). At this juncture, we must ask ourselves: in whatever group we find ourselves, are we building oneness or destroying it?
b) Secondly, Jesus prays, “so that they may share my (his) joy completely.” In fact, Jesus seems to say that the very reason he is praying out loud is because he wants the disciples to hear him. He wants them to know how he feels and how committed he is to them. He wants them to BE JOYFUL.
Of all the things that Jesus could have asked, he asked that they might be joyful. He could have said he hoped they would be serious or studious, or militant. But instead he wants his people to be joyful. He wants us to be characterized by laughter rather than solemnity. He desires that our focus be the RESURRECTION, not the CRUCIFIXION. He knows that people are drawn to the joyful rather than the sad. Which are you?
c) Thirdly, Jesus asks: “I do not ask that you take them out of the world but that you keep them from the evil one.” Jesus foresaw that life would not be easy for his apostles. Many times, in fact, he forewarned them that the opposite would be nearer the truth. He told them that they would be hated by some people, just as he was hated by some people. But what is interesting to note is that Jesus did not pray that they might be spared trials and sufferings, but that they might remain faithful in spite of them. He did not offer a release from problems but the strength to cope with them. We can learn from this. Often we think that God has abandoned us when we run into troubles.
It is wrong to blame God for our troubles. We are well able to manufacture them for ourselves. But God is the one to whom we turn in our troubles, for comfort, strength, patience and hope, and he will not disappoint us. We do not have to beg him or bribe him. All we have to do is admit that we cannot manage on our own.
This attitude and approach is illustrated very beautifully in the famous psalm 23: “The Lord is my Shepherd”. One verse of it goes like this: Even if I should walk in the valley of darkness, no evil will I fear. For you are there with your crook and you staff; With these you give me comfort (Ps 23:4). We notice that the Psalmist does not say that the person who puts his trust in God will be spared the “dark valley”, but that even in the middle of it, he will not fear because God will help him make his way through it. This is how Jesus prayed. This is how we too should pray. Besides, without pain no real growth or Christian maturity is possible. Our Christian faith is not a vaccination against pain and difficulties, as some preachers would want us believe. On the contrary, it is an assurance that in the middle of these sure difficulties, God will not abandon us.
We pray then, not to be spared trails, but rather that with God’s help we will be able to cope with the trials of life.
d) Finally, Jesus prays: ‘Consecrate them in the truth. Your word is truth.’ (Jn 17:17) The word “Consecrate” means to “sanctify”, “set apart”. It refers to the process of being set apart for God’s usage. He wants us to be holy, to be more like Jesus, in our everyday life. We become more like Jesus through our exposure to the truth. We learn the truth by reading the Bible.
3. THE SOLEMNITY OF OUR LADY, QUEEN OF THE APOSTLES, PRINCIPAL PATRONESS OF CAMEROON
On 8th December 1890, the German Pallotine Missionaries erected the first Catholic Mission Station in Cameroon, in a small village on the Sanaga River, not far from Edea. They named that Mission Station MARIENBERG (i.e Mary Mount), a name which it retains to this day. On that same day, they consecrated the whole of Cameroon to Our Lady Queen of the Apostles. The German missionaries entrusted to Mary their endeavours for the extension of the Kingdom of her Son in Cameroon.
In order to perpetuate that consecration of our country to Mary at the very dawn of its evangelization, the bishops of Cameroon decided that the 7th Sunday of Easter shall be celebrated, each year as the Solemnity of Our Lady, Queen of the Apostles, Principal patroness of Cameroon.
In today’s gospel text, Jesus prays for his friends (disciples). Friendships are some of the most precious things one can have. We have no better friend than Jesus. Jesus is praying for us, just like he prayed for his disciples. All we need to do is to stay close to him. He will stay with us for the rest of the journey. He will make sure we succeed in our endeavours.
Let us, therefore, entrust ourselves and the entire country of Cameroon to Mary, Mother of our Friend, Jesus, imploring her to obtain for us, by her powerful intercession, all the blessings which our country needs, above all, the precious incomparable blessing of Peace. With greater intensity than ever, we pray very specially today for the Rulers of Cameroon, that the Holy Spirit may enlighten and strengthen them to pursue, at all times, only those paths which will ensure lasting peace, security and justice for all Cameroonians.