Introduction: Christian love resulting in Christian unity is the main theme of today’s Scripture lessons. The first reading, taken from Acts, tells us how the eleven apostles as one unit, relying on the power of God, elected Matthias to replace Judas. This incorporation was done by the whole community under the chairmanship of Peter, choosing Matthias by lot. The outcome was taken to be the will of the Holy Spirit. The second reading, taken from John’s first Letter to the Church, emphasizes the centrality of love in our Christian living. It shows us how the apostle dealt with disunity in the Church by teaching the members the basis of true Christian love and unity. For John, love and unity among Christians is the first and most important witness for believers to bear. In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus prays in particular for those disciples who are sharing the meal with him. The core of Jesus’ message is love, a love that is to be manifested not only in nice-sounding words but, more convincingly, in the genuine acts of love that bind his disciples together into one community.
First reading, Acts 1:15-17, 20a, 20c-26 explained: The paragraphs in Acts 1 immediately preceding today’s reading tell the story of the disciples’ witnessing Jesus’ Ascension into Heaven and then returning to Jerusalem to spend their time in prayer, preparing to receive the promised “Power from above.” Then comes this passage. The apostles’ eagerness to fill their vacant twelfth position might make us ask what’s so special about twelve. Well, twelve is the number of the tribes of ancient Israel, each historically led by a patriarch, then by a judge. These Jewish followers of Jesus are still thinking in fairly strict Jewish terms. They have heard Jesus speak about their taking the Gospel to the ends of the earth. But the import of that has not sunk in. They have yet to experience Pentecost, when people from all the ends of the earth are to hear these men preach in the people’s own languages. So they’re still thinking in terms of the fulfillment of ancient promises, not in terms of entirely new promises and prospects.
Second Reading, 1 John 4:11-16 explained: The New American Bible states that the first letter of John was addressed to the early Christian community beset with many problems. Some members were advocating false doctrines. Some of them refused to accept the full Divinity and full humanity of Jesus. Others disregarded the commandment of love of neighbor. Still others denied the redemptive value of Jesus’ death and refused to accept Faith in Christ as the source of sanctification. These errors are here recognized and rejected. Here is the Baltimore-style catechism contained in this part of John’s letter. God loves us and it is God who first loved us. God doesn’t love us because we are good. God loves us because He is good. So what should we do? Love one another. How are we to love each other? We show our love for God by loving one another in action. What happens when we love one another? God remains in us. How do we know God remains in us? He has given us the Spirit so we can experience His presence within us. What happens to those who acknowledge Jesus as Son of God? They remain in God and God remains in them. Who is God? God is Love. What happens to those who remain in Love? God remains in them and they remain in God.
Exegesis: The number of Christian denominations: According to World Christian Encyclopedia (Barrett, Kurian, and Johnson; Oxford University Press) World Christianity consists of over 33,000 distinct denominations (Vol. I, p. 16).
Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer. “Jesus’ last testament represents the longest prayer in the Christian Scriptures and revolves around the shared union between the Father and the Son, between the Son and his disciples and among future generations of believers.” (Sanchez Files). The Holy Spirit, through John, wants us to know that Jesus prayed for his disciples that they would carry on his distinctive witness in the world.
The context: Following the Passover washing of the Apostles’ feet, Jesus begins to prepare the disciples for his departure. He foretells his betrayal, gives them the great commandment of love and foretells Peter’s denial. He then tells them that he is going to the Father’s house where he will prepare a place for them and that he will come again to take them with him. He promises them the gift of the Holy Spirit and assures them that the Holy Spirit will teach them everything. He warns of the world’s hatred and explains that the Spirit cannot come unless Jesus goes. Finally, he promises them joy and peace. Jesus then prays his “High Priestly Prayer,” of which our Gospel lesson is part.
The content of the prayer: The New Interpreter’s Bible distinguishes three parts in Jesus’ prayer. 1) Jesus Prays for His Glorification (17:1-8). 2) Jesus Prays for the Faith Community (17:9-23). 3) Jesus Prays for the Eschatological Union of Father, Son, and Believers (17:24-26). The main elements of the prayer are a) the founding of the community (17:6-8), b) the petition for the preservation and sanctification of the community (17:9-19), c) the petition for the oneness of the community (17:20-23), and d) the petition for the perfecting of the believers (17:24-26).
Analysis of Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer. (A) Jesus’ relationship: This prayer tells us something about Jesus’ relationship with his disciples. (i) The disciples are given to Jesus by God. It is the Holy Spirit, God, Who prompts us to become Jesus’ disciples. (ii) Through the disciples, glory has come to Jesus because the men whom Jesus has redeemed bring honor to him. (iii) A disciple is a man who is commissioned to a task. As the Father has sent Jesus to redeem the world, Jesus sends out his disciples into the world, in order to lead it back to God and to make it aware of God. He prays for his men in order that they may be such as to win the world for him.
(B) Jesus’ warning and promise: Further, this passage tells us that Jesus offered his men two things. (i) He offered them a warning. He told them that they were different from the world, and that they could not expect anything but hatred from it because their values and standards were different from those of the world. ii) He offered them his joy. All Jesus was saying to them was designed to bring them joy. It is by facing the hostility of the world that they will enter into the Christian joy.
(C) Jesus’ unique claim: In this prayer Jesus makes the greatest claim he ever made: “All that I have is Yours, and all that You have is mine”(John 17:10). Never did Jesus so vividly set forth his oneness with God, He is so much one with God his Father that Jesus exercises the Father’s very power and prerogatives.
The content of Jesus’ prayer for his disciples: Jesus prayed for the victory, unity, protection and consecration of his disciples. (i) Jesus prayed that they might find victory by living out their Christianity in the rough-and-tumble of life, instead of spending full time in prayer and meditation in convents and monasteries or in a life withdrawn from the world. Of course, there is a need for prayer, meditation and quiet times for this equipping process. The disciples must win the world for Christ by living out their Christianity within the world. They must bear witness to Christ through their transparent Christian lives, reflecting Christ’s love, mercy, forgiveness and spirit of humble service. (ii) Jesus prayed for the unity of his disciples. The world cannot be evangelized by competing Churches, and that is why Jesus prayed that his disciples might be as fully one as he and the Father are one. But Christian unity is not determined by whether we agree with each other about every interpretation of Scripture or doctrine or form of Church government. Rather, Christian unity is determined by whether and how well we love one another, and whether we reflect the love of God in Christ for the world. (Ephesians 4:4–6: one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; d5one Lord, one faith, one baptism; e6one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all). (iii) Jesus prayed for His Father’s protection for his disciples from the attacks of the Evil One. If the disciples of Christ fall, it is because they try to meet life on their own strength and do not remember the presence of their protecting God and seek His help. (iv) Jesus prayed that his disciples might be consecrated by the truth. (a) ‘Consecrate’ means to set apart for a special task (Jer 1:5; Ex 28:41). (b) It also means to equip a man with the qualities of mind, heart and character which are necessary for that task. God has chosen us and dedicated us for His special service of loving and obeying Him and bringing others to do the same. He has not left us to carry out that great task with only our own strength, but by his grace He fits us for our task, if we place our lives in His hands.
Life messages: #1: We need to understand, appreciate, cooperate with and pray with and for each other: The denominations are a reality. There is no use in our blaming each other for the historical events which caused these divisions in Christ’s Body. What we can do is to learn sympathetically about the doctrinal similarities and differences of the members of our Christian community and learn to love each one and cooperate with the members of all denominations in all possible ways. 2) Let us pray fervently that God may show us how to proceed in building true and lasting Christian unity without sacrificing the basic Christian principles and teachings.
JOKE OF THE WEEK
# 1: “What’s the difference between a Baptist and a terrorist?” The answer is, “You can negotiate with a terrorist!” (Rev. Tony Campolo, the Baptist preacher)
# 2: A sense of humor in church leaders is essential for Christian unity. Pope John XXIII had it. When asked by a reporter how many people worked in the Vatican, pope answered, “About half of them!” On another occasion, when he was being interviewed by the media, the Pope was asked what he would tell the Church to do today if he knew that Christ’s return was to occur tomorrow. He smiled and answered, “Look busy.”
# 3: At times we probably feel it would be so much easier if we could be like Lucy in the old Peanuts cartoon: Lucy says to Charlie Brown, “I would have made a great evangelist.” Charlie Brown answers, “Is that so?” She says, “Yes, I convinced that boy in front of me in school that my religion is better than his religion.” Charlie Brown asked, “Well, how did you do that?” And Lucy answers, “I hit him over the head with my lunch box.”
# 4: Q: How do you know that Lutherans (or your favorite denomination) will be the first ones to rise on the day of resurrection? A: Because Scripture says that the “dead in Christ will rise first.”
# 5: You know the joke about the woman crossing a high bridge? There on the parapet is a man preparing to jump off and she rushes to save him. “Don’t jump” she cries, “you are young and have so much to live for.” And before long she is comforting him and asking him about his background. “Are you a Christian?” she asks, and he says yes. “Are you a Baptist by any chance?” and again he says yes. “Are you Strict or Particular?” “Particular” he says and she is radiant. “So am I!” “Are you Particular and vegetarian or Particular and vegan?” “Particular and vegan” he says and she is ecstatic; “so am I! And are you Particular and Vegan of the 2001 Confession or the 2006 confession?” “2001” he says wearily but she is back on her feet. “Then jump, you vile heretic” and she pushes him off…
(Prepared: Fr. Anthony. Kadavil, St. John the Baptist Church, P. O. Box 417, Grand Bay, AL 36541, USA)