Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year B
We are now at the end of the Easter season, and today’s Liturgy gives us a passage of chapter 17 of John’s Gospel to read. The chapter forms parts of the farewell discourses, but chapter 17 is different from the preceding ones: Jesus stops speaking with His disciples and speaks directly to the Father, in a long and intimate prayer.
In the verses we read today (Jn 17:11b-19), Jesus prays the father for the disciples: He knows that the time to leave them has come and He entrusts them to Him Who entrusted them to Him.
What does Jesus ask?
Basically, He asks two things and the correspond to the two imperatives we find in verses 11 to 17: “keep them” and “consecrate them”.
First of all, “keep them”.
Jesus knows His disciples, and He knows that they need to be kept. They continue to live in the world (v.15-16), and alone they cannot overcome the evil one (v.15): they need a secure refuge, where they do not cease to be one (v.11).
What is this safe refuge?
For Jesus there is no safe refuge except in the name of the Father. In the Scriptures, name expresses identity, belonging, unity. The name of God is the truth of God Himself and precisely for this reason it was unpronounceable. Jesus prays, therefore, that the disciples may be kept by union with God the Father.
It means that a man is kept when he has a Father; when his life, deep down, has found that origin from which he knows he’s come and to which he knows he can return, to whom he returns and by whom he feels welcomed and loved. And a life is kept when this presence is unwavering and secure, it is within itself, it is a known name, that we know we can always pronounce without fear. This name is like a fortress, as many psalms repeat.
Jesus himself begins his prayer calling God by the name of Father, and repeats it four times in this chapter. But how many times this word has returned on His lips in the course of this Gospel…
Jesus, moreover, links this custody to the Name of the Father with being one of the disciples. Actually, there is a strict relationship between the two realities; besides, there is an interdependence. Only if the disciples remain the the name of the Father can they be one; if, instead, each one scatters in his own name, if each one makes another name (cf. Genesis 11:4, the episode of the construction of the Tower of Babel: “let us make a name, lest we be dispersed over all the earth”), then it causes every form and possibility of unity, of brotherhood, to disappear; the Church disappears.
The second thing that Jesus asks is to consecrate them, to sanctify them.
The verses are imperatives: “Consecrate them in the truth. Your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth” (Jn 17:17-19).
To better understand, let us take a step back: in John 10:36 we find a very similar expression: “to him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world you say…”
In both passages, we find a connection between consecration and sending: Jesus was consecrated by the Father, that is, He became, in the world, the place of His Presence, the manifestation of His name. It is the consecrated who are to be sent into the world; and to be there not in his own name, but as bearers of a presence that now indwells us and to which we belong.
Thus, the disciples are called to a special and holy vocation, that of listening to the Word of truth: Jesus gave them the Word of the Father (Jn 17:14), and this separated them from the world.
But they are separated from the world to be sent there again as announcers of the Gospel.
Christians are then bearers of a new word, a paradoxical and unique word, a word other than the logic of the world, which in fact does not recognize them as it’s own. This Word is the only true word, it is truth itself.
It is this Word that creates the bond between the Father and the Son, as well as between Jesus and His own.
Well, Jesus prays so that the disciples may be consecrated, sanctified in this true word, which makes them new persons. Persons that do not live for themselves, but that are sent to the world (Jn 17:18) to announce that there is a true Word for everyone; to announce that there is a safe refuge, and that this sure refuge is the name of the Father.
So, Jesus prays for both these reasons: He does not only pray that we may be kept, that we have a secure life in the hands and the name of the Father, but also because, in starting from this security, we can be sent to the world, to our brothers and bring everywhere the gift which we have been filled gratis.