Sunday reflection: John 17:1-11

posted at 10:01 am on June 1, 2014 by Ed Morrissey

“Sunday Reflection” is a regular feature, looking at the specific readings used in today’s Mass in Catholic parishes around the world. The reflection represents only my own point of view, intended to help prepare myself for the Lord’s day and perhaps spark a meaningful discussionPrevious Sunday Reflections from the main page can be found here For previous Green Room entries, click here.

This morning’s Gospel reading is John 17:1–11:

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 your son 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.”

We shift scenes this weekend between the Great Commission in Matthew 28:16-20 and this passage from the night of the Last Supper from John. The two passages are closely related, although the two events are separated by the Passion and Resurrection. Here, Jesus prays that the Father will lift the disciples up in strength to prepare to make disciples of all nations, in spite of the failures Jesus well knows will follow in the days ahead — and the betrayal that has already begun to unfold. This is the beginning of the Prayer of the Hour of Jesus, the “priestly prayer” that prepares Himself as the perfect sacrifice for the foundation of the church — which received the Great Commission at the Ascension.

In the earlier set of readings (some parishes may have heard this yesterday), Luke begins the Acts of the Apostles to set the scene for the Great Commission. Just prior to the Ascension, the apostles still seem confused about the nature of salvation and their mission in the world. They ask, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” They still are looking at the old model of Israel from the Davidic era of a nation of priests that would call all other nations to Zion to learn the Word of God. Instead, Jesus tells them: “[Y]ou will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

This, then, is the mission of the church. It reverses the old order, the old model, and makes us evangelists. The old model failed because, as the Old Testament teaches repeatedly, the kings of Israel grew more enchanted with worldly power and began to adopt the idol worship of its neighbors. Instead of being a beacon of light to the world, it settled for being one nation among many.

The church established by Jesus in the Great Commission exists to go out into the world to carry the Word of God to all nations. This is done by witness rather than power — in other words, through evangelization. In today’s Gospel from John, Jesus prays to the Father to strengthen not just those disciples (soon to be Apostles, which roughly means “those who are sent”), but also later in the same prayer for those whom the Apostles evangelize. “I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:20-21)

In this Prayer of the Hour of Jesus, which is the entirety of John 17, Jesus makes it clear that His Church will be a pilgrim church, one that evangelizes and spreads the word of the Holy Spirit. He says in this prayer just before He goes to the garden of Gethsemane that “As you have sent me into the world so I have sent them into the world.” That moment, though, comes at the Ascension, punctuated by the two angels who appear immediately afterward in Acts 1:1-11, who question why they are still “standing there looking at the sky.” It was time to go into the world and make disciples of all nations.

This applies to us as well, the descendants of the Apostles and the baptized members of the Church founded for the purpose of evangelization. In Acts, the evangelical fervor of the converted was hardly limited to the Apostles, but also to those converted as well. Stephen, who was among the first ordained deacons of the Church, became also the first martyr of the Church for his insistent profession of the faith. We are no less called to this Great Commission than the apostles who received it.

If that sounds like a tough act to follow, well … it is. None of us feel worthy to carry this mission on our own merits. That is why we return to John 17, where Jesus prayed not just for the disciples present at the Last Supper, but also for us — you, me, and the people on each side of you in the pews today. Throughout the Prayer of the Hour of Jesus, He repeatedly asks that He can glorify the Father through his perfect sacrifice, and that this will allow us to glorify the name of Jesus through our own imperfect sacrifices, and thus also glorify the Father. Even for “those who believe in me through their word,” Jesus prays that we may glorify the Trinity and so be added to the Trinitarian life. This prayer, this sacrifice ties us to the Great Commission through the explicit inclusion given by Jesus Christ himself.

Not all of us can be Stephen, or John, or Paul or Peter, of course. We all have different vocations within this Great Commission that are uniquely ours if we freely choose to take them up. For many of us, evangelization means teaching our children the faith and forming them properly in the Word so that they may do the same with their children. Others may be called to more formal vocations within the Church, such as the ordained or religious life, or perhaps to ministry in formation or service to the poor and infirm. We must individually discern through prayer and study what our vocation might be, and humbly accept the answers we find, and trust that the Holy Spirit will lead us in truth.

But make no mistake — we are all responsible for this Great Commission and the mission of the Church to make disciples of all nations. We are sent to glorify the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit on Earth to accomplish this task. Thankfully, we have this prayer of Jesus Christ to lift us up, and to fulfill His joy within us as we proceed.

The image is of The Ascension by Giotto di Bondone, 14th century.


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Yes.

22044 on June 1, 2014 at 10:06 AM

Nice post, Ed, and thank you. I cannot help but note the irony in the fact that yesterday, in his Rose Garden Announcement, our President allowed this to occur (from the Daily Caller):

At the end of brief event, the soldier’s father, Bob Bergdahl, recited the most frequent phrase in the Koran — “Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim” —which means “In the name of Allah, most Gracious, most Compassionate.”

After Bergdahl finished his statement and his praise for Allah, Obama hugged him.

So much for furthering the message of the Cross from the President of the United States. Our nation is in great peril, my friends…grave danger, indeed. Please pray for us…

bimmcorp on June 1, 2014 at 10:25 AM

Thank you for sticking with this form of testimony every week, Mr. Morrissey. It’s appreciated, sir.

We all have different vocations within this Great Commission that are uniquely ours if we freely choose to take them up.

We must individually discern through prayer and study what our vocation might be, and humbly accept the answers we find, and trust that the Holy Spirit will lead us in truth.

I find these two statements in specific applicable to some things I’m going through at the moment. We all have a role to play, and that role doesn’t always stayed fixed. It can shift and change, depending on what God has planned.

That’s where things stand for me right now. I spent years on end bound to a scope of sinful behaviors that I don’t think I could have detached myself from, in and of myself. For reasons of His own, God changed that. Then came the time of separation from those old ways, moving to the new ways that God had planned for me. A time of drawing hard lines and holding to them. And over the years, those hard lines have taken on the shape of a huge wall the size of the Three Gorges Dam.

Now, the time for wall-building/protecting/preserving/maintaining is coming to an end. That role for me served it’s purpose, but it is time for a new role now.

As someone has said to me, it’s a bit like going into freefall without a parachute! Scary as the dickens, yet incredibly exciting all the same. Trust isn’t one of my strengths, especially blind trust, but I don’t seem to have a lot of options on that point at the moment.

Irony is that I have to trust that it is exactly what God intended…because He would not have brought me this far just to let me fail, would He? (rhetorical question!)

lineholder on June 1, 2014 at 11:32 AM

“Anyone who has discovered Christ must lead others to Him. A great joy cannot be kept to one’s self. It has to be passed on.”

– Pope Benedict XVI

JetBoy on June 1, 2014 at 11:55 AM

Ed,you should consider becoming a permanent deacon.

celtic warrior on June 1, 2014 at 12:09 PM

I sure appreciate your Sunday reflections, Ed. There are not many political blogs who can intertwine Gospel reflections–it’s one of the many reasons I enjoy your perspectives and website in general.

This weekend, my daughter received her first communion which was fitting because receiving the Eucharist, at its very essence is a Commission we have every Sunday. We may not be able to necessarily explain how or why the bread and wine turn into the body and blood of Jesus Christ but as long as we believe it to be true, we carry the divinity and grace of God with us as we exit Mass.

Happy Sunday!

rfc63 on June 1, 2014 at 12:24 PM

Ed,you should consider becoming a permanent deacon.

celtic warrior on June 1, 2014 at 12:09 PM

Thank you for the compliment. It’s among the things I am discerning at the moment. Thankfully, Salem has been supportive of that discernment!

Ed Morrissey on June 1, 2014 at 12:29 PM

Read the gospel of Thomas.

John the Libertarian on June 1, 2014 at 1:16 PM

The old model failed because, as the Old Testament teaches repeatedly, the kings of Israel grew more enchanted with worldly power and began to adopt the idol worship of its neighbors. Instead of being a beacon of light to the world, it settled for being one nation among many.

No. It failed because the blood of bulls and goats cannot remit sin, Hebrews 10:4.

Akzed on June 1, 2014 at 1:55 PM

Read the gospel of Thomas. John the Libertarian on June 1, 2014 at 1:16 PM

May as well read Huckleberry Finn.

Akzed on June 1, 2014 at 1:56 PM

This was not the Gospel reading in Vermont today… where by the Grace of God, the Ascension is still on Thursday.

Thanks for your Sunday posts Ed.

Greek Fire on June 1, 2014 at 3:20 PM

When the Son of God is praying for you, you know you’ve been prayed for!

CurtZHP on June 1, 2014 at 3:33 PM

Therefore said he unto them, The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth labourers into his harvest. Luke 10:2

It is rare that I see anyone other than the Jehovah’s Witnesses out on the highways and hedges. There are plenty of people helping to fund missionaries across the globe, but almost nobody leading the lost next door to Christ. If you want to fulfill the great commission, please go out and find the courage to knock on a door.

If you are fully in your comfort zone, you aren’t doing it right.

Immolate on June 1, 2014 at 4:42 PM

Read the gospel of Thomas.

John the Libertarian on June 1, 2014 at 1:16 PM

OK, just to see why the early church rejected the gospel of Thomas, I took your challenge and looked it up. It’s very “different.” For example, take this verse.

(30) Jesus said, “Where there are three gods, they are gods. Where there are two or one, I am with him.”

So, John, why did you want us to read this?

Pythagoras on June 1, 2014 at 4:53 PM

If you want to fulfill the great commission, please go out and find the courage to knock on a door.

If you are fully in your comfort zone, you aren’t doing it right.

Immolate on June 1, 2014 at 4:42 PM

Not many care for door-to-door salesmen even if they are offering eternal life for free.

I heard of a (I think Nazarene) pastor who was to meet a guy at a bar. The guy didn’t show up.

After a time the pastor got ready to leave. The Holy Spirit checked him. The pastor asked the barkeep if he could sit a a table and if someone needed to talk, the bartender could send him/her over.

The pastor showed up weekly, and many found the Lord through that.

My suggestion for “soul winning” is to take a month or two and pray, asking God to whom He wants you to witness. Then pray for that person for a month or two or three. God will cause your paths
to cross.

In the 80s I was working as a groundskeeper at a community college. God directed me to pray for this guy, and after a while He wanted me to tell him I was praying for him.

Now this guy was rough, a drinker and a brawler. I told God that if He set it up where I didn’t have to tell him in front of everybody I would do it.

Within the week, I was out mowing the soccer practice field way out back, and who showed up. God said, “Here you are.”

I told Carl that I was praying for him. Instead of the snide comment that I expected, he said, “Thank you. I need it.”

But there are as many evangelistic “methods” as people I suppose. Paul said he wanted to become all things to all people.

davidk on June 1, 2014 at 6:02 PM

If you are fully in your comfort zone, you aren’t doing it right.
Immolate on June 1, 2014 at 4:42 PM

I only do what I see my Father doing.

pambi on June 1, 2014 at 6:04 PM

Nice Bible study Ed, first time I’ve checked it out. Anything written by John is perfect for evangelism too. I see a very screwed up world, BUT, the world was a lot more screwed up back when John wrote this. There is hope, and we must cling to our hope in Christ for all of our days.

Mojave Mark on June 1, 2014 at 6:32 PM

We must individually discern through prayer and study what our vocation might be, and humbly accept the answers we find

…I don’t want you changing careers just yet…ok?

KOOLAID2 on June 1, 2014 at 6:33 PM

If you want to fulfill the great commission, please go out and find the courage to knock on a door. If you are fully in your comfort zone, you aren’t doing it right. Immolate on June 1, 2014 at 4:42 PM

That’s actually the lest effective way to evangelize.

The best way is to invite people to Church or Bible study, along with living the gospel before them. This is known as friendship evangelism, and it is the highest ranking reason for church membership among people who are polled year after year by George Barna.

JW’s attract low IQ types using adversarial marketing, e.g., “All churches but ours are false,” and “Bibles” twisted to reflect their heresies. Their door-to-door approach should be considered in light of the source, not mimicked.

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

Nothing there about knocking on doors. Baptism and discipleship seem to be more important to the Lord. He should be presented to people as the One with all authority to whose will they are required to conform.

Akzed on June 1, 2014 at 7:18 PM

davidk on June 1, 2014 at 6:02 PM

What a great and interesting story. Thank you so much for sharing it.

You are absolutely right.

The power of prayer is amazing, praise be to God.

I am convinced that, besides my prayers and prayers of my loved ones, I have benefited from prayers of strangers and acquaintances over the years that I didn’t even know of. I also pray for random people that God places in my heart sometimes.

Because we are all connected together, the Church here on earth (the Church Militant) along with the Church Triumphant and the Church Penitent.

And of course we all pray for our family. We should never forget that prayer out of love is very strong. And that the prayers of a loving parent are very dear to Our Lord’s Sacred Heart.

God bless all of you here and your families.

And God bless you, Ed, and your family, as you discern. And thank you again.

Elisa on June 1, 2014 at 8:19 PM

Nicely done, Ed.

I’ve always loved this Gospel passage from John… I feel as though I am in the room with Him as he makes His prayer to the Father. It’s an incredibly magnificent moment in our faith and very clear call to all of us.

dpduq on June 1, 2014 at 8:32 PM

Repent America….obama is the punishment for our turning away.

Come Lord Jesus, come soon…..

crosshugger on June 1, 2014 at 8:50 PM

…I don’t want you changing careers just yet…ok?

KOOLAID2 on June 1, 2014 at 6:33 PM

The permanent diaconate is separate from one’s regular job. It’s not a career or a job; you keep earning your living at the job you have.

Ed Morrissey on June 1, 2014 at 9:47 PM

If you want to fulfill the great commission, please go out and find the courage to knock on a door. If you are fully in your comfort zone, you aren’t doing it right.

Immolate on June 1, 2014 at 4:42 PM

.
That’s actually the lest effective way to evangelize.

The best way is to invite people to Church or Bible study, along with living the gospel before them. This is known as friendship evangelism, and it is the highest ranking reason for church membership among people who are polled year after year by George Barna.

Akzed on June 1, 2014 at 7:18 PM

.
“Living the gospel before them” is absolutely #1.

The best Christian minstry, whether you consider it to be “evangelism” or not, takes place on the street, or otherwise out away from the Sunday meeting place.

When people are invited to church or bible study, they immediately become naturally suspicious of your motives, unless they have already observed you “living the gospel before them”, and that takes time. Certain individual people will require more time than others.

Door to door is not the best way to preach the Gospel Of Jesus Christ. However going door to door, and telling people that you’re a Christian believer who wants to pray for anyone who might have a prayer request (and nothing else, unless the recipient invites it) is a good way to gain respect. But when you do that, you must avoid identifying the specific church body you’re a part of, unless the recipient asks you. Otherwise you give the appearance of trying to promote your local church body, and that should NEVER be part of your agenda.

listens2glenn on June 1, 2014 at 10:01 PM

But there are as many evangelistic “methods” as people I suppose.

davidk on June 1, 2014 at 6:02 PM

.
Dittos . . . . . and no one should try to be a ‘carbon copy’ of any other evangelist, except Jesus Christ.

listens2glenn on June 1, 2014 at 10:12 PM

Repent America….obama is the punishment for our turning away.

Come Lord Jesus, come soon…..

crosshugger on June 1, 2014 at 8:50 PM

.
I agree with the spirit behind what you said, but our “punishment” began way before this … approx about the time Barack Obama was born, and there have been many punishments since then leading up till now.

listens2glenn on June 1, 2014 at 10:20 PM

Thank you Ed for another wonderful commentary. We believers are all called to evangelism and witness great and small (no matter how small and seemingly insignificant) by The Great Commission.

Thanks be to God.

Webutante on June 2, 2014 at 6:31 PM