Reading of John 17: 6-19
(Right after the reading) We are not sure whether Jesus actually uttered these words. But whether authored by Jesus or by any of his disciples, these words are truly inspiring. They are like a prayer in a moment when you know you will die, sort of your last words on earth. What would you say? If you had kids and you knew you were about to die, what would you say to your kids? Eat? Take your vitamins? Have fun? Remember to take a walk at the park? What would you say?
I am not sure if we know, but many theologians think that the Gospel of John is one of the most allegoric ones. In other words, many of the stories in John were not word by word scenes in Jesus’ life but symbolisms of a much needed message to Christians in the first century. In any case, I think John (or the author) meant to make this scene a climatic one. And what is that?
The prayer conveys a Christian life that is purposeful and intentional: Have you ever seen a movie scene where a person knows that he or she is going to die and is giving a farewell to a loved one. It is so dramatic, it is so moving some times to see this. The closer we are to a loved one when we see him or her die the more dramatic it feels. I have had mental flashes of what it would look like to see my dog Chuck go. I remember the first day we brought him to our apartment. He was so energetic, curious and small that he could be anywhere. My wife has only fallen in love with one animal, and that has been Chuck. And that did not happen by chance. We have spent time with him, fed him, cured him, played with him. Caring for him has been part of what we do because of our love for him. At a more human level, John depicts the picture of a Jesus who has gone through so much with the disciples and the time for him to leave is coming. And he recounts this prayer on what he really wants for them. He wants them to be connected to the Father, to live, to love and to work united with the certainty that as we go about our lives, the Spirit of God is with us for us to do the job that we must do.
We are not of this world but rather pilgrims with a mission. I may feel sometimes that I got here on this planet purposeless. But what can be worse sometimes is to feel that we do not belong here. Let me tell you a biblical concept: we are pilgrims on earth. Does that mean we can choose to leave earth whenever we wish? I do not think so. But that means that at times we will feel that things are not right around us and not because there is something wrong with us. If you work at a company you know how imperfect organizations are. If you work for a non-profit you know how people can be so self-centered in apparent selfless environments. If you have ever joined a club or a group you will recall moments when people did things to you that were downright wrong. And as societies grow and more people become involve in the process of governing, we will realize that corruption may seem to take over our system. Our pilgrim status entails that we shall not follow the current of corruption and injustice. And that brings us to the last point of the prayer.
There is a reason why we are where we are: We have a purpose on this earth that is connected to God and we are pilgrims on earth that will not follow the evil that we see around us. But we are not here to isolate ourselves from what is happening in the world. Jesus prays for us not be safe inside our temples but to be out there doing a job with the company of His Spirit. How powerful of a desire! When you feel that things are so wrong around us, and that there is so many bad things happening in our cities and communities and organizations, we need to remember that we are here as agents to help restore justice and love where there is injustice and self-centeredness.
I am not sure whether Jesus or John or some other disciple produced this prayer. It was certainly within the scope of the message of the Kingdom of God, key in Jesus’ preaching. We do know that Christians in those times lived under a lot of stress. Do you feel stressed out with the worries of your life? Let me tell a bit about how Christians lived in those times: They were under the rule of Rome. The majority of them were economically poor and the average lifespan was not above 40 years of age. Healthcare was minimal, science had not been born yet in the modern sense and many people lived sick lives. If you suffered from anxiety or depression people would say you had demons. Around the year 30 some started believing they had met their Messiah who was going to bring freedom and power to Israel, but this charismatic Messiah was crucified a few years after starting to preach. Many of them believed they had encountered this Messiah through His resurrection but the majority of the Jews (their siblings in the faith) did not believe them. Since this Christian story was more of a sect than anything else in the second half of the 1st century, Christians started being isolated from Jewish life and culture. This little Christian resurrection story was not very pretty for Romans at the time either. After forcing and failing to have Christians comply with Roman practices, many Christians were persecuted and even sacrificed for rejecting compliance to Roman pagan rules. The tradition goes that when many of these Christians encountered each other it was like a very cheesy movie where one person is about to die and gives a dramatic farewell to the other person. The only exception is that in these cases these were not movie scenes; this was the reality of our fellow believers in the first century.
Life was not easy back then, many Christians faced struggles that are perhaps not even faced in the poorest countries today – massive persecution, minimal healthcare, etc. But the message of this prayer gets to the heart of the need of those Christians in late first century as well as our existential dilemmas in the 21st century. There is a purpose to our lives: we are pilgrims with a job to do wherever God puts us. Whether you clean floors or you run a multi-million business, whether you are talented or feel one more ordinary human, whether you know only how to count or you can do high order math,………. this prayer reminds you that God created you with a purpose in this brief journey on earth and that it involves being the agent of justice and love that Jesus modeled.
What would Jesus say to his friends in his last messages? He gave them a purpose and he gave them a challenge. And he prayed to God not to take us out of this world and its problems but to keep us here with His Spirit. That begs the question: Are we aligned with this prayer?