Cycle A: Seventh Sunday of Easter

Father Glorify your Son

John 17:1-11a

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 he 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. Holy Father, keep them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How have you understood the phrase “to glorify God”? Where have you seen the glory of God?
  2. What do you see as Jesus’ core mission that you are now carrying on in your life?
  3. What do you think it means to “share in the suffering of Christ?” In what ways does suffering with Christ become a way of revealing Jesus’ divinity and glory to others?
  4. How does this reflection by John Shea help you to think differently about your life and legacy, relative to social and spiritual accomplishment?

Biblical Context

John 17:1-11a
Sr. Mary M. McGlone CSJ

The setting for today’s Gospel is still Jesus’ last meal with his disciples on the night before he dies. In today’s reading Jesus is not speaking to the disciples directly; rather he is praying to his Father. The disciples, and we, overhear the prayer. Many scripture scholars point out the similarities between Jesus’ discourse during his last meal with the disciples and what is known as a farewell discourse. A farewell discourse is a literary form in which a person of prominence says good-bye to his followers.

Once more John is insisting on Jesus’ divinity. Remember that the question of Jesus’ divinity is causing disruption in the lives of John’s audience. John insists that Jesus is God: Jesus and the Father are one. Remember that John’s Gospel begins by teaching that Jesus is the preexistent Word who became flesh and dwelt among us. Now, Jesus asks his Father, “glorify me, Father, with you, with the glory that I had with you before the world began.” Jesus refers to his own preexistence.

To pray that God will glorify Jesus is to pray that God will make Jesus’ divinity visible. The phrase God’s glory is used in the Old Testament to refer to any visible manifestation of God’s presence and protection. In time God’s glory began to refer to a manifestation of God’s saving power. Jesus gives glory to the Father because Jesus is the supreme manifestation of God’s love, faithfulness, and saving power. That is why, in John’s Gospel, Jesus’ glorification is his passion, death, and resurrection. It is through the passion, death, and resurrection that the Son reveals the glory of the Father, and the Father reveals the glory of the Son.

John continues to insist on the indispensable role that Jesus has been given in the salvation of the human race: Jesus prays, “Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ.” John is speaking to those who are actively rejecting belief in Christ and who are expelling their fellow Jews who believe in Jesus’ divinity from the synagogue, thus endangering their lives. This passage would not be equally true in another context, for instance, in the context of those who have never had the opportunity to know Jesus.

As is true in all farewell discourses, the focus changes from the leader to those to whom the leader is passing on his mission. For Jesus’ disciples to continue his work faithfully they will have to believe in his divinity, that is, in his relationship with his Father, as well as in the content of his message: “… 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.” The disciples must hear and understand Jesus’ words in order to carry on his mission.

Jesus then says, “I do not pray for the world but for the ones you have given me” John uses the phrase the world in a variety of ways in his Gospel. For instance, John has earlier pictured Jesus saying, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son… (John 3:16) The passage in today’s Gospel should not be used to deny the goodness of God’s creation or of the flesh that Jesus himself became. The word world is used here to refer to all that opposes those who have accepted Jesus, to focus Jesus’ prayer specifically on those who have accepted him and who will carry on his mission. Jesus’ prayer is, at the narrative level, for the disciples who are at table with him. However, the prayer is also for John’s audience, and for all generations who have been entrusted with the message that the Father entrusted to Jesus, including us.

Finishing Well

Spiritual Reflection
John Shea

When I read this calm and confident prayer, filled with “mission accomplished” language, I do not know how to “square it” with the random, anxious, unpredictable experiences of death and dying. In particular, Jesus’ assertion, “I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do” (John 17:4), seems to set him apart from all who die without this assurance. In the face of death, most prayers go in a different direction—regret for missed opportunities, repentance for wrongdoing, apprehension in the face of darkness. In the Gospel of Mark, we hear Jesus cry on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34) and we know he is one of us. In the Gospel of John, we hear Jesus say on the cross, “It is finished” (John 19:30). This is not a neutral remark meaning his life is over. This is a statement that his work is completed. It is time to go because everything is done. He has fulfilled Nietzsche’s exhortation, “Die at the right time!” However, this providentially guided death of Christ seems far from us.

Excepting suicide, death and dying are not within our control. We do not choose the time; the time chooses us. We do not choose the accident or the disease; they choose us. Death is no respecter of persons. It interrupts life. Even when we have our affairs in order—wills, funeral arrangements, letters to loved ones—there is a sense of disruption. There is so much that ties us to the earth. It is seldom that anyone is completely ready to depart. There is the story of an old man who surrendered his soul to God and was willing to die. Then he looked out the window, saw a rose, and decided to stay alive. In some circum- stances, we say it is a blessing to go. But more often, we feel death is a premature wrenching. Unless we are in debilitating pain, there is always more to do and experience.

Recently, a friend of mine, forty-five years old, died suddenly. He was playing basketball. He left his feet for a jump shot and was dead by the time his feet returned to the court. At the wake, it was remarked, “Tom loved the game. It was the perfect way for him to go, only he should have been eighty when he took the final shot.” He did not die at the right time. His children were young, and his considerable potential for contributing to the world only partially realized.

How can we say, “It is finished”? How can we say we have accomplished what we were sent to do?

It is helpful to remember that from a social point of view Jesus’ life was unsuccessful and brutally interrupted. As pious Christian literature has tediously pointed out, Jesus was a failure. The religious elite did not accept his message. One of his disciples betrayed him; one denied him; the rest fled. He was executed with criminals, mocked by both soldiers and priests. From this perspective, he did not die at the right time. His life was taken from him. As the two travelers on the road away from Jerusalem say, “our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him” (Luke 24:20). This is the social truth of Jesus’ life, and it is not a picture of accomplishment.

I believe the social truth of everyone’s life is failure. Even if we die, pain free, in the fullness of years, a mantle lined with trophies, ap- plauded by contemporaries, with family and friends around us, and leaving abundant inheritance, we die incomplete. Our deepest identity is not a social construction, and so social circumstances cannot fulfill us. On the social level, there is no perfect death and there is no right time. Although we should expend all our efforts at helping each other die well, we should also realize that “completion” must recognize the full, complex reality of the human person; completion is not achieved only by maximizing social conditions.

However, we might be able to talk about an accomplished life in spiritual terms. But it will entail some radical rethinking about life and what counts as success. Life is not about length of days or the
magnitude of accomplishments. The mission of life is to release divine love into the world. Every person is a child of God who mutually indwells with the Father (Parent God) and reveals the Father’s name. The adventures of life are invitations to actualize this spiritual identity. This identity may be actualized once or it may be actualized many times. The “child of God” may emerge at the “hour” of death or at any “hour.” Whenever the child of God emerges, whenever the Son and Father “co-glorify” one another, it is the “hour” of revelation—and the work we were sent to do is accomplished.

As strange as the words of Jesus’ prayer initially sound, they are words our hearts wait eagerly to hear. They do not articulate only Jesus’ relationship to the Father and his relationship to the group he calls “friends.” The words are exceptional, but not because they are devoid of the common emotions we associate with contemplating death. They are exceptional because they evaluate life from a consistent, theological perspective. It is a steadfastly spiritual appreciation of the human per- son. The prayer shows us the hidden spiritual reality that is difficult to see amid the tumult and noise of our social lives. Each person is a mission of love meant to stir love in others. When this happens, God is glorified, the work is accomplished, and life is complete.

Can we believe this?

Spiritual Commentaries and Teachings are excerpted from The Spiritual Wisdom of the Gospels for Christian Preachers and Teachers by John Shea © 2004 by Order of Saint Benedict. Published by Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota. Used with permission.