After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4 I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. 5 So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.
6 ”I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8 for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9 I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.
11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.
John 1:11-17 (NRSV)
This week’s Gospel reading is from John 17:1-11, a passage right in the middle of what we call ‘The Last Supper’. Matthew, Mark and Luke recount this event in one or two chapters before moving on to Jesus’ betrayal arrest and crucifixion. John, however, lingers here. He spends more time recounting the Last Supper than he does the Crucifixion. This moment, apparently, is crucial to John and he takes painstaking effort to draw us into the candlelit passover meal, the washing of the disciples’ feet and the prayers that Jesus prays for himself, for his disciples and for the world.
As I read over these words again, I am reminded that, at this most crucial moment, there is a disconnect between Jesus and his disciples. There is a chasm between what he says and what they hear.
Dee Kelly, a former intern and friend for life, is one of my favourite people in the world but our friendship got off to a rocky start. That’s a longer story for another time but, suffice to say, it was a long and hilarious journey from the day we met and she hated me to the day she started working for me (when most of that hate had subsided!)
Looking back on our time working together in Kilkenny, I laugh when I think of all the times that I would say ‘I need to chat to you about something’ and she would freak out, afraid that she was in trouble. Granted, she was in trouble once but, the vast majority of the time, I wanted to talk to her about something positive or something trivial.
There was a massive difference between what I said and what she heard.
All I was doing was expressing my need to communicate something to her.
What she heard was that the world had spun off its axis and it was all her fault!
The disciples suffer from a similar affliction. Their ability to hear what Jesus said was distorted because of the expectations that they had placed upon him. The disciples, like everyone else in 1st Century Palestine, were waiting with bated breath for the Messiah, the one that they believed would liberate them from the stranglehold grip of foreign Roman power and the corrupt grasp of Herod.
As a result, when Jesus prays that God would ‘glorify him’, the disciples imagine a different kind of glory. They think back to a few days before when, in John 12 Jesus prayed ‘Father, glorify your name’ and a voice from Heaven answered:
'I have glorified it and I will glorify it again.'
When Jesus says that God has ‘given him authority over all people’, they imagine a different kind of authority.
They imagine that Jesus will be raised up to a throne, not a cross.
They imagine that he will be glorified with a crown of gold, not a crown of thorns.
When he prays for their protection, they imagine he means during their ascent to a worldly power rather than in their descent to Kingdom powerlessness. They imagine needing protection while in power rather than protection from the powers that be.
This, however, is the glory of the Crucified God and the way in which we bring glory to him. Jesus glorifies God through obedience and then by the ultimate loving sacrifice.
In verse 11, his prayer for them is not that they would be powerful nor is it that they would be safe. His prayer is that they would be one.
United in obedience.
United in lives of loving sacrifice.
This is the road to glory in the Kingdom of God. That we would live as Paul describes Jesus as living:
"Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name"
At the beginning of John’s Gospel, he introduces Jesus by saying that ‘the Word became flesh’. Sadly, in our tendency towards division, disunity and disagreement, we have so often turned the flesh into words. We have succumbed to the temptation to be right rather than obedient, powerful rather than sacrificial, independent rather than interconnected.
As we seek to follow God in the season of Easter, we are reminded that the glory of God is in the descent. That the last will be first. That God has glorified himself in selfless, obedient, humble flesh … and seeks to do so again and again and again.