(5/16) Acts 1:15-17, 21-26 • Psalm 1 • 1 John 5:9-13 • John 17:6-19
I'm a fan of the lectionary. The set readings have added structure and sense to my life. Still, this Sunday, I have to complain. How did the gospel reading get shortened so that the reader dives into a prayer already in progress? Why ask folks to start in the middle of perhaps the thickest reading ever, and then to skip its conclusion? What were they thinking? Sigh. For me, reading all of John 17 provides the bookends necessary to make any sense at all of the chapter.
The chapter itself is someone's effort to sum up a prayer of Jesus near the end of his life. It contains deep thoughts regarding his life and his hopes for us humans. From the start here, I freely admit that it's way over my head. And of course it would have to be – how could a prayer of Jesus be rendered understandable to me, with my feet of clay? While the more modern translations are some help, and while I have given this chapter a lot of study and thought, I still get stuck.
One stuck point is the whole I in thee and we in they and mine and thine language, which comes and goes throughout the chapter. As I see it now, two things are happening here. First, Jesus is talking about relationships within the Godhead. Leaving that aside, Jesus is also describing how humans overlap with one another, how one is actually a part of the other, with little-to-no capacity to find a way to a separate self. In my own life, this process is easiest to see in my relationship with my sister. Born 16 months apart, we were wired together. Our intense relationship had an up and a down-side, though, as I'm guessing they all do.
The disciples of Jesus also had close relationships marked by petty bickering. Perhaps it is they, particularly, along with the whole human species, hopefully, whom Jesus is praying for when he asks in v. 23 that they all may be one. My guess here is that Jesus is not praying that they will always agree; rather, that they will find so much freedom in their community that disagreeing would be part of the package. Otherwise, they would have difficulty in finding the truth, which sets each person more free to see the broader picture of life – and which they need to function well as a group.
Each of us has many groups – family, friends, work colleagues, church community – where we have the opportunity to grow ourselves up. In my own experience, the work continues to remain incomplete, in this life. I think about my sister, who died at age 42. I still miss her! But if she were still alive, would we have found our way to a perfect, mature relationship? Would we ever, in this life? I think not.
I wonder about eternal life, which according to John 17:3 is somehow about knowing God. Well that's a tall order! It's hard enough to know one another! So much gets in the way; we are, after all, just creatures here on earth. However, even here in this ordinary life, there are opportunities for understanding one another better.
Reflecting on the lives of those who have died can bring a larger view. For instance, I've recently become more aware of some challenges in our parents' lives when my sister was an infant. Thinking about one's family history can bring a more realistic assessment of what others were up against. With that comes a greater ability to apprehend what really happened and one's own ever-smaller place within it. Once found, the larger perspective cannot be taken away. And the greater understanding may bring the beginnings of deep joy, as Jesus prayed for us to find in verse 13 of today's impossibly unreadable reading.
Morning: In what family relationships do I notice some intensity? Where might I begin to find a bigger perspective?
Evening: When have I experienced joy? What gets in the way?
Psalm 1:1 Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers.