Homily for May 10th, 2016: John 17:1-11a.
In today’s gospel we come to one of the most majestic passages in John’s gospel, Jesus’ so-called High Priestly prayer. Knowing that his life is drawing to its close, Jesus stands before us not to offer sacrifice – that will come the next day, on
Calvary. Rather he stands before his heavenly
Father, offering intercession for his friends – ourselves included.
The passage begins by telling us that Jesus “raised his eyes to heaven.” He did the same at the Last Supper, as we hear in the first Eucharistic Prayer: “On the day before he was to suffer, he took break in his holy and venerable hands, and with eyes raised to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the bread and gave it to his disciples …"
Reading the words of his prayer, we get the impression that Jesus has already crossed the threshold between time and eternity and is now on the way to his Father. The twice repeated word “Father” gives Jesus’ prayer a note of special intimacy. He asks nothing for himself, so that his words are more a prayer of union than of petition.
Jesus does ask for “glory.” But his glory is not distinct from the glory of the Father. During his earthly life Jesus’ glory was visible through what John’s gospel calls “signs” – miracles such as the changing of water into wine at the wedding in Cana, Jesus’ healings, the stilling of the storm on the lake, his feeding of a vast crown in the wilderness. At Cana Jesus said: “My hour has not yet come.” (2:4) Now Jesus’ “hour” has come. We pass from signs to reality. “The hour” is the time for the Son of Man to be glorified. Jesus’ earthly life ends with his return to his Father.
In a real sense, however, his real work is only beginning. We know this from Jesus’ words about “the ones you have given me”: “Now they know that everything you gave me is from you … they accepted [my words] and truly understood that I came from you, and have believed that you sent me.” The understanding of which Jesus speaks here includes obedience to God’s Commandments. Knowing that we cannot do this without God’s help, Jesus says: “I pray for them.” This prayer for us, Jesus’ friends, continues today, and until the Jesus returns in glory, at the world’s end.