If it feels like you heard Sunday’s lectionary Gospel in church recently, maybe you are having a flashback to this time last year. Or the year before. Or any other year. On the 7th Sunday of Easter, the lectionary always gives us one chunk or another of John 17.
It is a chapter of Scripture that I dearly love.
In other passages we see Jesus heading off to pray alone or with friends, and of course he teaches them what we call the Lord’s Prayer. But in John 17 we get a full chapter recording what and how he himself prayed.
And think of the context:
He knows he has finished the long season of traveling with his disciples, teaching them their mission as he taught and healed the crowds.
He has spent this last evening with them in the four previous chapters of John, giving them the New Commandment, giving them the Lord’s Supper, giving them his last summary of his teaching.
He knows, even if they don’t understand, that he is about to be betrayed, arrested, tried, tortured, and killed.
All that is left is to pray for them.
One last time.
The reading is only the first third of the prayer. It is, of course, richer to explore the whole thing in a coherent way. I’ve led retreats working through this chapter, this one prayer, over the course of several days. But John 17:1-11 is a Sunday-sized portion.
An interesting feature of this section of the prayer is that very little it is asking for anything.
- Jesus asks the Father to glorify him (verses 1 and 5).
- Jesus asks the Father to protect his disciples and bring them to unity (verse 11).
Really — that’s it.
Which should point us to something very important: prayer is more than asking God to do things.
The whole passage is prayer. The first part of the first verse sets it up, and then Jesus’ words to the Father flow for the rest of the chapter.
So what is he doing?
In this prayer, Jesus is telling God things God already knows
Some of it is about the past.
- God has given Jesus authority.
- Jesus’ life has given glory to God.
- Jesus was alive, in glory, in God’s presence before creation.
- The way Jesus gave glory to God was teaching his disciples.
- The disciples have lived faithfully in light of what Jesus taught.
- Jesus has been glorified in the lives of the disciples.
Some of it is about the present
- The crucial time has come.
- The whole work of Jesus is about bringing eternal life.
- Eternal life is about knowing God.
- Knowing God is also about knowing Jesus.
- The disciples know that Jesus’ teaching came from the Father.
- Whoever belongs to Jesus belongs to the Father.
- Whoever belongs to the Father belongs to Jesus.
Some of it is about the future
- Jesus is praying for his disciples, not for the rest of the people.
- Jesus is leaving.
- The disciples are staying.
None of this is request. Much of it is background and present context. Some is hopes and fears for the future.
In that sense it’s a lot like what I write in my journal.
And it’s all prayer.
Prayer in the Pandemic
This is a shorter and odder post than I usually do for my Monday Meditation. But here I am in the midst of pandemic craziness, and some weeks it’s hard to focus. That’s probably true for you too.
One thing I find helps is prayer—especially the kind that ends up filling pages of my journal, or flowing in my mind as I go on brisk neighborhood walks with my mask on. I remind God of a thousand things God already knows. Stuff about the past. Stuff about the present. Stuff about the future, what I hope and what I fear.
I hope you will give yourself room to pray in the ways Jesus did in this passage. If you aren’t a habitual journaller, then give it a try. You don’t even need an actual journal. Just take a piece of paper and write what you think and feel about the past, present, and future. God is listening in.
(If you’d like some stories about great journal pray-ers of history, read the chapter on “Praying with the Puritans” in my book Kneeling with Giants: Learning to Pray with History’s Best Teachers.)
Be well, my friend.
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Gary Panetta says
It had not occurred to me to think of Jesus’ prayer here as a model for how we might pray (I think of the Lord’s Prayer for that).
So this is a helpful new way to see this passage. I’m intrigued about how you might use this chapter in retreats.
Blessings to you!