This Sunday’s gospel passage contains part of the prayer Jesus addressed to his Father following his Last Supper discourse with its the promise of the holy Spirit. Jesus prays for his disciples and for all who will believe in him through their words. The depth and poetic beauty of Jesus’ prayer defies making an adequate prose summary. Principal elements of the prayer are listed here merely as an aid to memory for the reader—communion in the life of Father and Son, desire that the world come to believe in him, desire that all may see his eternal glory, desire that the Father’s love be in all who believe.
We usually associate the presence of the Spirit that Jesus gave to his disciples after the resurrection with the audacity with which they preached the gospel (the parrhesia of Acts 4:13,29,31). The first reading of today’s liturgy from the Acts of the Apostles alludes to that understanding in recounting the story of Stephen (“filled with the holy Spirit”) who was enabled to follow Jesus with courage even to death in his martyrdom. Our gospel passage perhaps is even a more striking illustration of the belief that Jesus shares his Spirit with the church.
What could be more audacious than to express in words the intimate communion of Jesus with his Father in prayer as today’s gospel passage does? The church today continues to pray with the Spirit of Jesus, particularly in its eucharistic liturgy. The Spirit also guides each of us in our unique, individual prayer so that we may become more aware that Jesus lives and prays in us. And the Spirit enables us to live in the awareness that the Father loves us with the same love that he loves Jesus. (Raymond E. Brown in his commentary on the fourth gospel calls this last implication of Jesus’ prayer “breathtaking.”)
The prayer of Jesus is not past tense: as Risen Lord Jesus prays in the eternal now with the same desire of love, and invites us to pray with him in company with all the angels and saints. This is the truth that the second reading of today’s liturgy from the Book of Revelation calls to our attention. And this is the truth Saint Augustine taught newly baptized Christians in his Easter Sunday sermon of the year 415. In the Eucharistic liturgy we already now are participants with the Risen Lord in the liturgy of heaven. “You are urged to lift up your hearts. That is only right for the members of Christ. If the head had not gone ahead before, the members would never follow. So our head is in heaven. That is why, after the words ‘Lift up your hearts,’ you reply, ‘We have lifted them up to the Lord’.”
Jesus continues to pray that all may be one just as the Father and he are one in order that the world may come to believe. In Jesus’ mind, the unity and love among his followers will draw all people to believe in him. The separation and hostility among Christians surely is a scandal in the strictest sense—an obstacle to belief.
“See how they attack one another” seems so often to have replaced the saying of pagans about Christians in the ancient world, “See how they love one another.” We might recall that at the Last Supper Jesus was aware that he would soon become the innocent victim of violence. Nevertheless, Jesus refused to save himself by responding to violence with “sacred” violence, however justified that response might appear. He experienced God as loving; therefore, he could not be anything else. He knew that even “sacred” violence results only in deeper separation and deeper hostility. It cannot transform the human heart. Only the Father’s love in Jesus and in us can work that supreme miracle.
Campion P. Gavaler, O.S.B.