Commentary on John 17:1-11
Today we move on to the great chapter 17 of John. Jesus is still with his disciples at the
Last Supper and this is the final part of his discourse. It consists of a long prayer, sometimes called the High Priestly prayer of Jesus.
The prayer can be said to be in three parts:
- Jesus prays for his own mission;
- he prays for his immediate disciples, who are with him as he prays;
- he prays for all those who in later times will become his disciples.
Jesus begins by praying for the success of his mission. He prays that, through his passion, death and resurrection, he may find glory. In John’s gospel Jesus’ glory begins with his passion and the high moment is the moment of his dying on the cross which is also the moment of resurrection and union with the Father. This glory is not for himself but to lead people to glorify God, of whom Jesus is the Revealer and Mediator.
In turn, he prays that all he does may lead to people everywhere sharing in the life of God. And what is that life? It is stated here in one of the key sayings of Jesus reported in the Gospel: “Eternal life is this: to know you, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”
To know God and to know Jesus is to acknowledge their unique place as the source and end of all we have and are. To know the Father and Jesus is to have as full as possible an understanding of Jesus’ message and to have assimilated it into one’s whole life. It is not just a knowledge of recognition but a mutual identification of vision and values. As the Jerusalem Bible comments: “In biblical language, ‘knowledge’ is not merely the conclusion of an intellectual process but the fruit of an ‘experience’, a personal contact. When it matures, it is love.” (Jerusalem Bible, loc. cit.)
It is to be aware of that, to accept that fully as the secret of life, not just in the world to come but here and now. Everything else – and it really means everything – is secondary to this. To put anything else, however lofty, in first place is to go astray.
Jesus has given glory to the Father by all that he has said and done. He now prays again that glory will be given to him, because by giving glory to him we give glory to his Father also. In fact, it is through Jesus, through our total identification with him, that we give glory to God.
Jesus now prays for his disciples, the “men you took from the world to give me”. Although it was Jesus who chose them, ultimately they are the gift of the Father to help Jesus continue his work on earth. Jesus thanks God that they have recognised that he comes from the Father and that they have accepted his teaching. And, because they belong to Jesus, they also belong to the Father and through them Jesus will receive glory.
Finally, they have been chosen from the world and yet will remain in the world, though not sharing in its values. In fact, they will give glory to Jesus precisely by challenging the values of that world and leading it to the ‘eternal life’ which they have discovered through Jesus and which they have already begun to enjoy.
We thank Jesus for his disciples. We thank them for handing on to us the secret of life.
We thank them for the giving of themselves, sometimes through a martyr’s death, to share that secret with us. We recognise that they, like us, had many weaknesses but Jesus still
worked through them and through them the world came to know Jesus.