“Holy Father, keep them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are one,” Jesus prays in his final discourse before the passion. The Gospel passage for Sunday’s liturgy is the final part of this discourse. This passage is referred to as the Priestly Prayer of Jesus. It is the longest prayer of Jesus in the scriptures.
Jesus prays for his disciples. The prayer is intense given the immensity of his love. The magnitude of this love is made manifest in Jesus’ impending passion.
In the passion, Jesus lives the command of love mentioned in the preceding passage — last Sunday’s Gospel reading: “There is no greater love than this — to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Three elements of Jesus’ prayer can help us understand his love and the life that flows from that love.
First, the communion established through his love. Jesus has gathered his disciples together. The band formed is one based on faith in Jesus. He has been sent by the Father to gather the faithful together and to reveal the Father’s love. The communion is established through Jesus passion, death and resurrection — the Paschal Mystery; and through his sending the Holy Spirit.
The communion is one of love. You may recall in last week’s Gospel Jesus speaks of the love shared between the Father and the Son of which the disciples are invited to participate. Entering into this loving relationship the disciples are filled with life. Jesus says to the disciples: “Remain in my love.”
The call is one of love for Jesus then gives us the greatest commandment — “love one another as I love you.” Living the life of divine love entails recognition that we have been loved and are loved by God. The response to this love, then, is loving one another by “laying down one’s life for one’s friends.”
The love is powerful. The bond of communion is manifest, strengthened and made visible through theses acts of love. Jesus’ prayer to the Father for the protection of his disciples is so that they may continue to live in that communion of love.
Second, the disciples live in the “world” but are not “of the world.” The term “world” as used by Jesus in the Gospel according to John has a particular meaning. You may recall that in the fourth Gospel the evangelist makes a series of contrasts between that which is “of God” and that which is not. One example is his use of the terms “above” and “below.” That which is “above” or “from above” is that which is of God. That which is “below” is either “not of God” or from the evil one. Jesus’ use of the term “world” is to represent a reality of the “below.”
Here he is not so much referring to created reality (the universe, the earth, the seas and mountains, the birds and fish, humanity, etc.) as to those things which keep us away from God. The disciples live “in the world” but they “do not belong to the world.” Jesus’ prayer is that they, that we, may live the life of love and not be distracted or even consumed by the “world.”
The way of the world represented by power or wealth, prestige or selfishness, pride or darkness is one of temptation. We are regularly temped or attracted to the things of the world. Jesus prays that we may be strengthened to live without succumbing to these things so that we might share completely in his joy. The way of the world might look attractive, it might even be pleasurable for a time but it ultimately robs one of life because it is not from God, it is not of love. Jesus’ prayer is one for protection and encouragement.
Third, Jesus prays that the disciples may be “consecrated in the truth.” Speaking to the Father he says: “Your word is truth.” Being consecrated in the truth enables the disciples to live “in the world” but not be overtaken by “the world.”
“Truth” is another theme that runs throughout the Gospel. You may recall the dialogue between Jesus and Pilate during Jesus’ trail. Pilate asks: “Then you are a king?” Jesus replies: “You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate then says: “What is truth?”
Jesus already answered this question earlier in the Gospel, when he says: “I am the way, and the truth and the life.” Jesus reveals the Father and his love. His sanctification of the world occurs as he trusts completely in the Father’s love and reveals that love in the laying down of his life.
Faith in Christ Jesus leads one to experience truth. He is the Word of God. He is truth itself. With the consecration in truth Jesus sends his disciples into the world. They bring the truth with them and lead others to experience the truth of God’s love through their loving.
The First Letter of John reminds us of the centrality of love. “No one has ever seen God. Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us … God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him.” The association between love and faith is strong, for the author writes: “Whoever acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God remains in him and he in God. We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us.”
Today we celebrate the Seventh Sunday of Easter; next Sunday is Pentecost when we celebrate the out-pouring of the Holy Spirit. The gift of the Spirit consecrates us in truth, in love and in faith. The Spirit fills us with an experience of God’s love and impels us to love. The Holy Spirit animates our lives in love.
As we observe this last week of Easter we are reminded of Jesus’ prayer once uttered in words now eternally before the Father. Jesus’ prayer is a source of renewal for us; a renewal that strengthens our communion; protects us as we live in the “world” and one that “consecrates us in the truth,” so that we can live the life of love.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville.