Year B: Seventh Sunday of Easter

The Seventh Sunday of Easter

John 17 11b-19

Lifting his eyes to Heaven Jesus prayed saying: 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. When I was with them, I protected them in your name that you gave me, and I guarded them, and none of them was lost except the son of destruction, in order that the scripture might be fulfilled.

But now I am coming to you. I speak this in the world so that they may share my joy completely. I gave them your word, and the world hated them, because they do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world but that you keep them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world. Consecrate them in the truth. Your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world. And I consecrate myself for them, so that they also may be consecrated in truth.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How is the experience of Christian “Joy” distinct from happiness in your life and how do you contrast the two, are they the same?
  2. How do you experience your ability to love others as a reflection of God’s love for you? Explain.
  3. As Christians, we are called to be “in the world, but not of it”. What are the worldly systems you struggle most to stay free of in your desire to “remain in Christ”?
  4. Love as Jesus lived it, often involve loss and letting go. What have been the some of the sacrifices of serving unity and love in your life?
  5. Do you think division is hard wired in us? For all our prayer and hearing of the Gospel, why do you think we move so easily toward division instead of unity in our relationships with others?

 Biblical Context

John 17 11b-19
Margaret Nutting Ralph PHD

Today we read Jesus’ prayer that his disciples will be united, protected, joyful, and consecrated in truth. In between our readings from the last two Sundays and today, the Gospel of John includes a chapter (chapter 16) in which Jesus tells the disciples that he will be leaving but that he will send them the Advocate, the Spirit of truth. Jesus says, “Now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father. However, Jesus warns the disciples that they will abandon him: “Jesus answered; Behold, the hour is coming and has arrived when each of you will be scattered to his own home and you will leave me alone'” (John 16:31-32). The passage we read today is in the context of this painful interchange.

Jesus prays that the disciples may be united. “Holy Father, keep them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are one.” As John pictures Jesus saying this prayer for his disciples, John’s contemporary Jews, who are end-of-the-century disciples of Jesus, are not united. Some believe in Jesus’ divinity. They believe what John is teaching: that Jesus is the Word made flesh, that he came from the Father, and that he returned to the Father. Those who believe this are being expelled from the synagogues and are therefore subject to Roman persecution. Other Jews who claim to believe in Jesus do not believe in his divinity. This division is causing a great deal of pain in the community, just as divisions among Christians in our world cause a great deal of pain.

John makes it clear to his contemporaries that they should hear Jesus’ prayer in the context of their own divisions and persecutions by picturing Jesus referring directly to their present situation: in chapter 16, the chapter not included in the Lectionary, Jesus says, “They will expel you from the synagogues; in fact, the hour is coming when everyone who kills you will think he is offering worship to God. They will do this because they have not known either the Father or me. I have told you this so that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you” (John 16:2-4). Notice that Jesus prays that the disciples “may be one as we are one.” Jesus and the Father are one because they love each other. Jesus has already explained this to his disciples in this same discourse: “As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love” (John 15:9). The bond of unity among Jesus’ followers in every generation is to be modeled on the unity between the Father and the Son and is to be grounded in love.

Next Jesus prays that his disciples will be protected. “When I was with them, I protected them in your name that you gave me, and I guarded them. “As we have already noted, Jesus does not lead the disciples to believe that with God’s protection they will escape persecution. Jesus himself will not escape persecution. His death is imminent. The disciples, too, will face persecution. Jesus prays, “I gave them your word, and the world hated them, because they do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world.” Being faithful to the word will lead to persecution. Jesus prays that his Father will protect his followers from the evil one: “I do not ask that you take them out of the world but that you keep them from the evil one.” The World… meaning worldliness, or anything opposing Christ’s mission.

Jesus tells the Father that he makes this prayer “so that they [the disciples] may share my joy completely.” Despite division and persecution, Jesus wants the disciples’ hearts to be full of joy. This has been a recurring emphasis. In the vine and branches discourse Jesus said, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.

Next Jesus prays that the disciples will be consecrated in the truth. “Consecrate them in the truth. Your word is truth.” That Jesus should pray both that the disciples be united in love and that they become consecrated in the truth is a challenge for John’s audience, and for every generation. The reason John’s contemporary Jews are persecuting other Jews is that they do not agree on what constitutes the truth. However, John’s Gospel gives his contemporaries and every generation an idea as to how we might solve our divisions. In John the truth and the word are not abstract philosophical concepts. Jesus is both the word and the truth. The path to being consecrated in the truth is to keep oneself completely centered on the person of Jesus Christ.  Finally, Jesus prays “As you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world.” With these words John reminds us that Jesus’ disciples, of every generation, are sent into the world to carry on Jesus’ ministry, united in love and consecrated in truth.

A Lived Amen

Fr. Michael K. Marsh

 We live in a dangerous world. I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. We read about the dangers of this world every day. We see the pictures on the internet and the daily news. Some of you have experienced first-hand the dangers of life.

The human instinct to danger is fight or flight. Neither one, however, really changes the situation. One adds to violence and increases the danger. Someone will get hurt, life will be lost.  The other creates and opens a space and a place for the danger to exist. Again, someone will get hurt, life will be lost. The events and circumstances that we perceive as dangerous are real, but they really just point to deeper issues. They are symptoms of what is going on within the human heart. They reveal the wounds and brokenness that often stand in opposition to the life, love, and ways of God. This opposition is what St. John means by “the world.”

John is not talking about the created order, nature. That was created good and remains so. The world refers to the many different operating systems that we use, and have come to accept as normal, to order human life: our social, cultural, political, and economic structures. Far too often those systems both arise from and create fear, anger, division, injustice, and greed. That is the world into which Jesus sent his disciples and it remains the world in which we live and practice our faith.

Jesus knows that the human ordering of life is often contrary and even opposed to God’s ordering of life. That concern is the subject of his prayer in today’s gospel. It is the evening of the last supper. Feet have been washed. Supper is ended. The betrayer has left, and it is night. The darkness has descended: the darkness of Jesus’ impending death, the darkness of not knowing the way, and the darkness of the world.

Jesus neither runs from nor fights the danger of the world. He offers a different way. He loves and prays. He lays down his life in love. He prays for us, he ones who will continue his life and work in the world. We live in the world, but we do not belong to it. We belong to Jesus and the Father.

The great danger for us is that the darkness will invade, fill, and overtake our hearts. We either give up or buy in to business as usual. You hear that in phrases like, “What can I do? I am only one person” or “That’s just how it is. It’s always been like that.” Jesus’ prayer, however, suggests that is not how it is intended to be, and it doesn’t have to continue that way.

Jesus prays that his joy may be made complete in us. This happens in the midst of the world and its dangers. It is neither running away from the systems of the world nor standing up to them but laying down life before them in witness to Christ’s love. That’s not easy to do. Jesus does not pray that it would be easy or that we would be taken out of the world. Instead, he prays for our protection in the world. Live the amen.

Our protection is not found in escaping or avoiding the danger. The protection Jesus asks for us comes through sanctification. “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth,” Jesus prays.

Sanctification separates us from the usual operating systems of the world. We neither give up nor buy in. Instead, our lives are transformed. We live according to and reveal God’s system for the world: things like love, mercy, forgiveness, beauty, wisdom, generosity. Our protection is in being made holy and wholly God’s. That is what keeps us safe in the midst of the conflict.

It is not enough to just hear Jesus’ prayer. His words ask that we live, act, and work with God in answering his prayer. We are to actively participate in Jesus’ prayer by shaping our life to be increasingly like his.  So, while we might give an “amen” to Jesus’ prayer we must also examine our own hearts and ask ourselves some hard questions.

The real issue is not about what’s out there in the world but about what’s in here, in our hearts. What is our hearts’ orientation? How do we benefit from, participate in, and foster the systems of the world that oppose God’s life? Are we willing to change? Do we operate out of our wounds and brokenness: resentments, the need to win, looking out for number one, living with an attitude or scarcity, prejudice, fear, self-condemnation or hatred? To the degree we do, we deny God our life and contribute to the darkness of the world. That is not God’s desire or hope for our lives or the world.

You, I, and all humanity are worth so much more than that. Jesus’ own life and prayer declare that. We are the gift he and his Father share and exchange between themselves. Jesus entrusts us to his Father’s protection even as he entrusted himself to the Father. To do anything less denies us God’s sanctification, our protection.

“Holy Father, protect them,” Jesus prays. In large part the answer to Jesus’ prayer rests in our hands, our hearts, and our “amen,” not just a spoken amen but a lived amen.

Live the amen. Offer forgiveness rather than retribution, mercy instead of condemnation, and compassion rather than indifference. Lay down your life in love for another. See life through the lens of beauty and not cynicism. Choose unity over individualism and God’s ways over personal agendas. In those moments you are the amen to Jesus’ prayer, your heart is healed, and the world is different.


Selections from Breaking Open the Lectionary: Lectionary Readings in Their Biblical Context for RCIA, Faith Sharing Groups, and Lectors—Cycle B, by Margaret Nutting Ralph, Copyright © 2005 by Margaret Nutting Ralph. Paulist Press, Inc., New York/Mahwah, NJ. Reprinted by permission of Paulist Press, Inc.

Reflection Excerpt: Interrupting the Silence, Fr Michael K. Marsh