Gospel and Homily Transcript
Lifting up his eyes to heaven, Jesus prayed, saying:
“Holy Father, keep them in your name
that you have given me,
so that they may be one just as we are one.
When I was with them I protected them in your name that you gave me,
and I guarded them, and none of them was lost
except the son of destruction,
in order that the Scripture might be fulfilled.
But now I am coming to you.
I speak this in the world
so that they may share my joy completely.
I gave them your word, and the world hated them,
because they do not belong to the world
any more than I belong to the world.
I do not ask that you take them out of the world
but that you keep them from the Evil One.
They do not belong to the world
any more than I belong to the world.
Consecrate them in the truth.
Your word is truth.
As you sent me into the world,
so I sent them into the world.
And I consecrate myself for them,
so that they also may be consecrated in truth.”
“I pray not only for them, but also for those who
will believe in me through their word,
so that they may all be one, as you, Father,
are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us,
that the world may believe that you sent me.
That They May Be One – Transcript
Today’s gospel, as we are in this time of Cenacle prayer, after the feast of the Ascension, before the feast of Pentecost, praying for the coming of the Holy Spirit, praying for the openness to God’s will at work in our life, the church gives us this selection from John chapter 17 which is called “Christ’s Priestly Prayer.” It is Jesus interceding with the Father praying for his disciples and as today’s gospel concludes, praying for all those who would believe because of their word, which is Jesus praying down through history for each one of us.
It’s a rare opportunity that we have the opportunity to be able to listen in on Jesus praying to the father but John chapter 17 is this extended prayer of Jesus in intimate union with the father. He begins by reflecting on the perfection of unity that exists within the Trinity, praying that the apostles may experience that same kind of unity that he experiences with the Father. St. Thomas Aquinas said that there is a perfect unity within the Trinity: the father perfectly loves the son and the son perfectly loves the father; there is no division. Whatever the father wants, the son wants. Whatever the son wants, the father wants. This perfection of love in diversity generates the presence of the Holy Spirit. The father is not the son, nor is the son the father but the perfection of love within them generates the Holy Spirit and this is the one God that we celebrate in the Trinity.
That model of unity—the perfection of love of the father for the son and the son for the father—is Jesus’s prayer first for his apostles and then by extension for each one of us. If you just sit with that reality it is a mind bender to be sure. Jesus prays for this perfection of unity that we would be taken into the very heart of God by our love for one another. This unity is certainly not of the world but it’s the image that the church holds up for marriage and indeed it’s the image of all of Christian life; this sacrificial self-giving love.
Again the context for Christ’s priestly prayer—John chapter 17—is part of the larger Last Supper discourse where Jesus gives his final words, his final instructions, to the apostles on the night before he dies. He’s under no illusion of what is going to happen to him. Jesus has that foreknowledge and he will come from praying with the apostles into the garden of Gethsemane praying in great agony and then would be tortured and ultimately killed. Jesus knows exactly what is in store for him and the best gift that he can give his apostles is to pray for them and by extension down through the centuries to pray for us. He prays for this unity—and this unity is not of the world is it? Yet it becomes the very sign of the truth of the gospel.
The natural order of things is fighting and division. The natural order within the world is protecting the ego; vying for positions of honor and prestige and privilege; protection for ourselves and our own: those who look like us, those who think like us, those who act like us, those who are part of our club. With the rise of right-wing populism across the globe, increasingly the message throughout the world is protect your own and be suspicious of those who don’t look like you, think like you, act like you, pray like you.
Isn’t it ironic that as science pushes farther and farther into space and we learn more and more about the vastness of the universe, our political scope, our religious scope, our personal scope, becomes increasingly narrowed to: what’s in it for me and protect your own. We become increasingly suspicious of the other because they’re not us.
I saw West Side Story at the Lyric Opera this past weekend. I suspect all of us know that story and the brilliant score by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim—by a very young Stephen Sondheim—brilliant choreography and direction by Jerome Robbins and the book by Arthur Laurents. It’s one of those works that just passes the test of time. As I was reading the notes in the program, I was wondering when did this work premiere on Broadway and it was way back in 1956. I was only six years old at the time. So much has changed and so little has changed. You remember West Side Story it’s about white gangs on the west side of New York that are very suspicious of the Puerto Rican gangs: the Sharks and the Jets. It’s a modern retelling of the story of Romeo and Juliet with a tragic ending.
I was reflecting on the fact that last weekend here in Chicago 10 people were killed and 52 were wounded. Just in the last weekend alone here in Chicago, 10 people gunned down and 52 wounded. Much of that related to gang violence. I couldn’t help but think of that in the context of enjoying this beautiful brilliant musical and wishing that this were just some kind of fantasy that really didn’t relate to our world. The gang problem is particularly perplexing here in the Chicago area; as it is across the United States; as it is devastating Central and South America right now; as it fuels the immigration crisis that we face within this country. But it’s a microcosm of the larger problems that we face within the world. We have this fragmentation and suspicion of the other of our inability to live this unity that Jesus prays for for us.
Pope Francis has been relentless in raising up this issue for us. We need to look beyond our suspicions and Jesus ends his great priestly prayer in today’s section by saying, “Father may they be so one in us that the world will know that it was you who sent me.” Translation: That the way that we Christians live in the world will be so radically counter-cultural that it will underline the truth of the gospel. It will not undermine, but underline the truth of the gospel that Jesus is who he says he is. You’ve heard me say this before, one of the most terrible indictments of Christianity came from the great apostle of nonviolence Mahatma Gandhi.
Gandhi was very familiar with Christianity. He carried around a copy of the Beatitudes with him and his inspiration for his nonviolence was the example of Jesus. He was quite clear about that. Where did he get this nonviolence stuff? It was from Jesus. It was from the Gospels and so they asked him, “Gandhi why don’t you become a Christian?” Gandhi’s response was, “Because Christians don’t follow what Christ preached. If Christians followed what Christ preached I would be a Christian, but the Christians don’t follow what Jesus taught so why should I be a Christian?” What a terrible indictment of Christianity but can we argue with that? In what way are we better than our culture? In what way are we rising above this narrow fragmentation that is overtaking the world right now—not just in inner-city Chicago but throughout the world.
Jesus’ prayer for us is, “Father may they be so completely one that the world will know that you sent me.” Is that unity difficult to live? Yes, absolutely. Because we wound each other. I see it from my perspective. You see it from your perspective and we clash and we disagree and it’s so easy to be suspicious and to impugn the motives of the other person because they’re not thinking like us. When that person doesn’t look like us, when they don’t pray like us, when they don’t share our political values then of course they become the enemy.
Jesus’ prayer: “Father may they be so completely one, that the world will know that you sent me.” The old Christian song that we sang last week, “They will know we are Christians by our love.” Not by the fact that we go to church; not by the fact that we pray; not by the fact that we quote the Scriptures. All of those are good and necessary and helpful things, but the criteria that Jesus raises up in today’s gospel is, “Father the world will know that I am who I say I am, because of the way they live their lives. Let’s pray for that grace. Amen? Amen.