A matter of trust

Easter 7 – 2011

John 17:1-11

Marian Free

In the name of God in whom we have life in the present and life everlasting. Amen.

I wonder what would happen, if I gave each of you 100 words and asked you to use just those words to write an essay that was 1,500 words long. I imagine that it would take a considerable amount of creativity to complete such a task. Even if you used words like “the” and “and” disproportionately often you would have to use some of your words at least 10 times and you would find it difficult to say what you wanted to say because you were restricted to the 100 words provided. Even if I allowed you to choose your own 100 words, I imagine that the amount of repetition required to complete a 1,500-word essay might be a real test of your ingenuity.

With this in mind, you might be surprised to note that the writer of the gospel of John uses only 1,011 words to write the entire gospel. As there are 15,416 words in the gospel as a whole that means that of those 1,011 words, many are repeated over and over and over again.  To give you a few examples, the word “light” appears 22 times, “glory” 19 times, “glorify” 12 times and “hour” occurs 20 times. The fact that the word “life” occurs something like 47 times and the word “know” is repeated something like 100 times takes up some of the slack – and allows for other words to be used much less frequently.

It is a characteristic of John’s gospel that key terms are repeated and also that many of these terms have double meanings. For example, John uses “light” to refer to physical light, but also to the revelation of God through Jesus. “The hour” means not only a point in time, but also the point at which Jesus’ mission comes to fulfillment. “Life” refers to eternal life, which is not something to be expected in the future, but a life that is available to believers in the present. Jesus uses the words “the name” or “your name” when he is speaking of God. “Know” or ”knowledge” is used in the sense of the knowledge of God that leads to salvation.

It is almost as if the author is speaking in code – a code which does make superficial sense to the average listener, but which has a much deeper meaning for those in the community that he is addressing.

I’m certain that the author of John does not have a limited vocabulary. The reason that he uses so few words to write the gospel is that his record of Jesus’ life is condensed into themes – light/darkness, blindness/sight, coming and going. He wants the readers to understand that Jesus existed with God from the beginning of time, that Jesus and the Father are one, that Jesus represents light in the darkness and that light and darkness are two different forms of existence and that no one can inhabit both at the same time. Jesus comes from heaven, is sent by God and will return to heaven. On earth, Jesus’ role is to give people the knowledge of the Father that leads to eternal life.

The author does not need to use a great variety of words, because his intent is simply to share these themes and to record the life of Jesus in such a ways as to draw out these over arching themes.

Today’s gospel reading is, as might be expected, filled with some of John’s key terms – the hour, glorify, life, name, know – all of which the reader will now be familiar with from the earlier chapters.

We have seen over the past few weeks, that the gospel of John concludes with this – Jesus’ farewell discourse. His final speech to the disciples shares many characteristics with other farewell speeches including those of Jacob and Moses. One of the characteristics of such speeches is the prayer for those whom they will be leaving behind. Jesus too concludes with prayer. He prays for himself, for the disciples and finally for those whom the disciples will bring to faith.

There is a sense that Jesus has already moved on, that he has already left this world behind him. His concern now is whether or not the disciples will be able to continue his mission. Will they abide in him as he abides in the Father? Will they be one as he and the Father are one? Will they keep the faith in a world hates them? Jesus’ role in the world has come to an end, now he must rely on his disciples to make God known and so he prays for them – that they will hold fast, that they will be one.

Despite Jesus’ apparent confidence that the disciples have kept his word and have believed that he has come from the Father, there is an element of uncertainty in his prayer. He is after all leaving his mission in the hands of a group of people who have been slow to understand, and who in his moment of need will abandon and deny him. Can they really be trusted to carry on his mission.

Two thousand years later, we might think that over the centuries Jesus’ worst fears have been realised. Jesus’ disciples have not always demonstrated a confidence in God. It would be hard to argue that those who believe in Jesus have always behaved in a way that is consistent with making the glory of God known and it would be impossible to suggest that the church has been one, as Jesus and the Father have been one.

When Jesus prays for the disciples, he prays not only for those who were present with him at the time before his death, but for all who will be his disciples in every generation. As he prays for them, he is praying for us. We must look to ourselves then if his prayer is to be fulfilled in this day and age. We must ask ourselves – Do we strive for the unity with Jesus that Jesus shared with the Father? Is God glorified through our lives? Are we in the business of making God’s name known in the world?

Make no mistake – the answer to Jesus’ prayer does not depend on anyone else, in the past or in the present – it depends on us – on our faith, on our willingness to be one with Jesus and our desire that God be glorified on earth through our lives. Jesus has placed all his trust in us. Are we able to rise to the challenge?


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