John 17: 11b–19
This passage is part of the high-priestly prayer of Jesus that John uses as the climax of the Last Supper Discourse. Its beauty of poetic expression and depth of meaning cannot be captured in a prosaic summary. A summary at most serves as a focus for study in preparation for hearing the prayer in its proper context of the Eucharistic liturgy.
Jesus prays that those who believe in him may be one just as he is one with God, his Holy Father. In his prayer Jesus says that he came into a hostile world to save those the Father gave him from destruction by the evil one. Jesus now is coming to the Father. He will consecrate himself for his disciples so that they may also be consecrated in truth. He will send them into the world as the Father sent him into the world.
A key for grasping the life implications of Jesus’ prayer lies in the final verse: “And I consecrate myself for them, so that they also may be consecrated in truth.” To consecrate himself means that Jesus offers himself as sacrifice to God, his Holy Father. The word sacrifice, like consecrate or sanctify, refers to the realm of God, the Sacred or the Holy One. In opposition to the realm of the Holy in John’s gospel is the “world,” hostile to God because it is under the dominion of the “evil one.” We who are of the world cannot by our own efforts cross the infinite divide into the realm of the Holy. It is only God who invites and enables us to come into the sanctifying presence through offering ourselves as sacrifice. The offering of self is not complete without God’s acceptance. Only then are we consecrated through the gift of being touched by the Holy.
An essential consequence of giving oneself to God is that one belongs to God, and thereby exists for God’s use. Otherwise, sacrifice would be as meaningless as giving someone a car, while retaining its use for one’s own projects. The gift of consecration by God through sacrifice always involves a mission to advance God’s projects in the world.
Of the great variety of sacrifices in the biblical tradition, one is particularly significant in regard to Jesus’ high-priestly prayer at the Last Supper. In this tradition a person could offer an animal representing oneself to God. The animal is burned to signify passage into the realm of the Holy. God accepts those making the sacrifice, and invites them to share a sacrificial banquet as an expression of divine communion that has been given. The experience of communion with God is the reason that offering sacrifice of whatever kind in the biblical tradition is associated with joy.
Deuteronomy 16: 11–12 illustrates the life implications of offering oneself in sacrifice: “You shall rejoice in the presence of the Lord, your God, together with your son and daughter … as well as the resident alien, the orphan, and the widow among you, in the place which the Lord, your God, will choose as the dwelling place of his name. Remember that you too were slaves in Egypt.” We see the joy of celebrating a sacrificial banquet with God. And we see that God uses the one consecrated by the divine presence to serve the destitute and the outcasts of society. If you give yourself to God in sacrifice, you will be used for love.
In his high-priestly prayer Jesus says: “But now I am coming to you … And I consecrate myself for them.” (John 17: 13, 19) Jesus’ entire life was a coming to God as sacrifice. Jesus did not offer an animal representing himself; he gave himself in his entire humanity. The climactic completion of his sacrifice comes when he is lifted up on the cross and is accepted by the Holy Father in the resurrection.
At the Last Supper before the completion of his sacrifice, Jesus reveals the good news that his disciples will be consecrated as he is consecrated. With the same mission as was given to Jesus, they will be sent to bring the fallen world, which God loves, into the joy of divine life. In the Catholic tradition, Christ’s presence in the mystery of his eternal sacrifice is actualized in every celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Today, we also hear the good news that our self-giving becomes one with the self-giving of Jesus. In the joy of this undreamed of communion with the sacrifice of Christ, we offer our prayer of thanks and praise. We share the sacrificial banquet to which God invites us, receiving Jesus himself as food and drink for eternal life. Then the Lord sends us into the world as he was sent to become bread and wine for others, so that all may rejoice in being one with him in the life and love of God.
Campion P. Gavaler, O.S.B.