- Acts 16:16-34 & Psalm 97
- Rev 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21
- John 17:20-26
This week brings us almost to the end of the Easter cycle, and concludes the series of lectionary readings from Acts and Revelation. Following Pentecost (and Trinity Sunday on the first Sudnay after Pentecost) we start a new series of readings from 1&2 Kings and Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. At that time we shall also resume the series of Gospel readings from Luke.
First Reading: Adventures in Philippi
This week’s passage is the final in a series of tales about Paul’s exploits. There are more adventures to come in Acts, and they often seem to be recounted with an ear for their capacity to evoke one of the familiar episodes in Homer or the other writings of the time. In the familiar genre of the Greek aretology, the hero went on a journey during which new wonders were encountered and various challenges overcome – sometimes by superior fighting skills but often my means of clever deceptions.
In this passage Paul somewhat reluctantly heals a young woman whose demon possession has made her a valuable asset (as a fortune-teller) for her owners. Naturally uspet at the loss of their income stream, the owners bring Paul and Silas before the authorities who promptly have them whipped and then incarcerated in the local jail. Far from distressed by this turn of events, the two heroes pass the time in worship and praise. Even when a convenient earthquake provides a means for their escape, they not only remain vountarily in the shattered cells, but also (apparently) prevail upon their fellow inmates to remain in their ruined jail rather than grasp the liberty fate has offered them.
The jailer is so overwhelmed by this turn of events that he and his entire household join the new sect, and Paul finds himself an honoured guest in the home of a new Christian. Paul is not only a model citizen (whose civic privileges are publicy acknowledged next morning), but also the surprising victor over all his opponents.
Gospel: Jesus prays for his followers
This chaper of John is read each year on the seventh Sunday of Easter:
- Year A – John 17:1-11
- Year B – John 17:6-19
- Year C – John 17:20-26
The portrayal of Jesus praying for all who would become his disciples in the future is a powerful image. It reads the post-Easter experience of Jesus as the risen One with a passionate concern for his followers back into the memory of Jesus before Easter; in this case, even to the final minutes leading up to his arrest.
When we compare the Johannine account of Jesus praying in the garden prior to his arrest with the Synoptic Gospels, we can see how much this version has been shaped by distinctive Johannine concerns.
The Synoptic Gospels preserve an entirely different tradition about Jesus praying in the garden prior to his arrest than we find in John. Mark seems to have provided the basic narrative, while Matthew and Luke have developed the story in slightly different ways. Matthew tends to stay fairly close to the account in Mark, but Luke exercises more freedom in his variations from Mark. Very little of this synoptic tradition matches with what we find in John.
(A horizontal line synopsis of these texts is available on the Jesus Database site.)
Matthew has followed Mark’s version quite closely, with the only significant variation being the words provided for the second period of prayer. Luke has been more radical in his retelling of this episode. He shortens the account, and yet he also introduces the new elements of the angelic visitor and the intensity of Jesus’ prayer (sweat like great drops of blood). Despite these differences, it is clear that both Matthew and Luke have derived their story from Mark.
The story told by John may also be dependent on Mark, but it represents a stage of the tradition that has been subjected to extended reflection. The relatively simple story of Jesus praying for strength prior to arrest has been transformed into an account where the divine Son, fully conscious of his eternal glory shared with the Father, prays for his disciples and not for himself.
Like the speeches placed on the lips of key characters in a narrative or a play, this prayer serves a key role in the development of the story line in GJohn. It picks up various themes from the farewell discourse in chapters 13-16. The prayer sets the scene for the arrest and trial, making it clear that Jesus was not so much the victim of the process as its omniscient director. Rather than begging his Father to rescue him from the predicament, the Jesus of John 17 calmly exercises the authority of the Glorified One. Jesus prays not for himself or even just for his followers at the time, but for all those who would come to believe as a result of their work.
One of the interesting ways to read this chapter is to see it as a Johannine meditation that reflected on the tradition of Jesus praying prior to his arrest in light of the memory of Jesus teaching his disciples the prayer that we know as the Lord’s Prayer. Just as the discourses of Jesus in GJohn often seem to echo and elaborate simpler sayings of Jesus known from the Synoptic Gospels, the major themes from the Lord’s Prayer seem to have an echo in John 17:
may your name be kept holy!
— let your reign come
Our day’s bread give us today;
and cancel our debts for us,
as we too have cancelled for those in debt to us;
and do not put us to the test!
[This translation is from J. M. Robinson et al, The Critical Edition of Q, (Hermeneia) 2000]
Possible echoes of the Lord’s Prayer in John 17 include the following:
- The intimacy of Jesus repeatedly addressing God as Father in John 17 reflects the ancient tradition that Jesus taught his followers to approach God as Abba.
- The appeal for God’s name to be kept holy, is developed by GJohn in the concern for the Father to be honored in the Son, and the Son’s own honor (shared with the Father from eternity) also to be revealed.
- The reign of God coming on earth is echoed in the work of the Son who completes the work given him by the Father and will be carried forward by those disciples who remain “in the world” to implement the work of Jesus. The symbol of the day’s bread provided fresh each day has been displaced by the theme of the disciples being under the protection of Father and enjoying a unity that parallels the unity of the Father and Son.
- The theme of mutual forgiveness of debts may have been subsumed into the concern for a divine unity among the followers of Jesus; a profound unity that arises from the kind of love that Father and Son have for one another.
- The followers of Jesus will be put to the test by a world in which they are seen to be aliens, but Jesus asks the Father to keep them under his protection and to rescue them from evil.
Critical scholars are united in attributing this prayer to the Johannine community rather than to the historical Jesus, but Raymond Brown provides a way of framing that negative historical judgment that reflects the lived experience of the Church that these words continue to speak to new generations:
Chapter xvii has been compared to a personal message that a dead man has recorded and left behind him for those whom he loved, but the the comparison limps for such a message would soon become dated. Rather in xvii, in the intention of the Johannine writer, we have Jesus speaking in the familiar accents of his earthly career but reinterpreted (by the working of the Paraclete) so that what he says is always a living message. [John 1970:II.178]
Liturgies and Prayers
For liturgies and sermons each week, shaped by a progressive theology, check Rex Hunt’s web site
Other recommended sites include:
See David MacGregor’s Together to Celebrate site for recommendations from a variety of contemporary genre.
- Alleluia No 1 – TiS 390
- Alleluia (Richard Bruxvoort)
- Now the green blade rises – TiS 382
- Shine, Jesus, shine – TiS 675