These prayers come at the end of the Passover Supper before Jesus was betrayed.  Jesus has washed the disciples’ feet to demonstrate his servant kingship, goes on to tell of his betrayal and Peter’s denial, and then tells them that he is going to leave them.  What a lot for the disciples to take in! 

But then he talks of going to heaven to prepare a place for the disciples, and that he will return for them, and he promises the Holy Spirit. His teaching goes on, and concludes with this long prayerful passage, our reading is the beginning of Jesus’ prayers.  He prays first that he will be glorified and will bring glory to God, then he prays for his disciples and finally for all believers.  After all this, he goes out to the garden of Gethsemane and is arrested: harsh, physical reality in the cruellest of ways. But let’s go back to the prayer.

In this whole passage, Jesus seems very human to me, he’s concerned for himself and his relationship with this Father, but also so much for the disciples and believers who will be left on earth when he’s gone. 

Part 1 – John 17: 1-5

The first section is titled, “Jesus prays to be glorified”.  He is aware that the end is near, and he wants to do his best – to be glorified – so he can glorify the Father, and show the power of his Father.  He talks of the authority given him by God, the authority to grant eternal life to those given to him – those whose hearts were opened to know God, and Jesus, who was sent by God.  Jesus brought glory to his Father by teaching all who were sent to hem – he fully completed all he was sent to do, with no hint of regret or shortcoming.  In v 4 he says, “I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. “  How many of us can say that we have wholeheartedly, absolutely, completed a task to the very best of our ability?  It’s great if we can!   I find it hard, I often remember the small things I couldn’t, or didn’t do, to get a project delivered on time.  But it is good to take joy in a job that we have worked hard on, and given a great deal of our best. 

It may seem a bit strange that Jesus actually tells his Father he completed it , it may even seem almost boastful to us.  In fact, as God knows all things, Jesus didn’t have to tell God how he’d done!  But still he does, I think as a humble assessment of what he’d done, in humility before his Father.  It reminds me of  what Paul says Philippians 2:6: “Christ, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.”  He reported that he had done the job for which he was sent.

And then he ends with the ultimate request to God: “Glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.”  This is the “us” referred to in Genesis when God says during the creation story, “Let us make mankind in our image,”, it is the one referred to at the start of John’s Gospel, “He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made.”  Jesus is returning to resume his place with his Father in heaven.

Part 2 – John 17: 6-11

In the second part of the reading, Jesus prays for his disciples.  He starts again by saying he did what he was sent to do for the disciples, those particular men he called to work with him.  He revealed God to them, and they obeyed God’s word for their lives.  More, than that, they grew to know that Jesus spoke the word of God. They accepted his teaching that Jesus came from the Father, and the Father sent him.

Then comes a really lovely bit which shows how special these twelve men were to Jesus.  He says, “I pray for them.  I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours.”  At this point he is praying specifically for them.  I don’t for one minute think that he isn’t concerned for the world, its problems, and its joys, but he takes this particular, special time to pray especially, singularly, for them.  Imagine being prayed for like that by Jesus!  If we read further in John 17, we find Jesus prays for all believers, for each of us here in 2023, and his prayer is much the same as what he prays for the disciples.  Take a moment to read it, the passage is a real blessing for us.

Then he goes back to acknowledge the inter-wovenness of what belongs to God belongs to Jesus also, and because he achieves the purpose for which Jesus was sent.  The faith of the disciples in God is a reflection of Jesus’ faith in God. 

Then he talks of leaving them in the world after he has gone.  He acknowledges they will still be in the world when he has gone, but without him, as he is going to the father.  So he prays, and I imagine him praying this with great earnestness and intensity, almost like he prayed in Gethsemane, “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be on as we are one.  While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me.” 

It just seems amazing to think that the disciples might be one as Jesus and the Father are one, those twelve different, strong-minded blokes being united by their oneness with Christ.  It didn’t make them all the same, but it united them.

What we can take away

As we consider the Christian people we know, they will be different ages, and have different outlooks and interests.  God doesn’t make us all the same, just as the disciples were not changed to be the same.  But they had a oneness because they shared a common relationship with God.  We can think of our Christian friends and marvel at the fact that God has placed his call in each of our hearts, and that is the most important common relationship we share. 

We pray: We thank you for our oneness in you.  Help us Lord to continue to grow in love and trust in you, and so grow in love and trust of each, other as you continue to work in our individual lives.  We ask this for the sake of your Son Jesus Christ who died that we might live, and for the sake of the broken world in which you have placed us to live and work.  Amen.