|Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes at|
Texts for 7 Easter B:
The Gospel readings for 7 Easter all come from John 17: Year A -- vv. 1-11; Year B -- vv. 6-19; Year C -- vv. 20-26.
While the prayer is a unified whole, it is usually given 2 or 3 subsections, based on whom Jesus is praying for: himself, disciples, or others.
O'Day's outline (John, New Interpreter's Bible)
Brown's outline (John, Anchor Bible)
Bultmann's outline (The Gospel of John, slightly adapted)
- The Founding of the Community (17:6-8)
- The Petition for the Preservation and Sanctification of the Community (17:9-19)
- The Petition for the Oneness of the Community (17:20-23)
- The Petition for the Perfecting of the Believers (17:24-26)
There are different interpretations for the pronouns in this prayer. In v. 9, Jesus prays for them (Gk & NIV) = NRSV's "on their behalf". This may refer to the original disciples or to all present believers.
Verse 20 has two pronouns: "those believing in me through their word" (v. 20). If "their" refers to the original believers, then "those" refers to all the believers since the original disciples. We would be part of this group who believe because of "their," that is, the original disciples' word. Brown (John, Anchor Bible Commentary) makes this distinction.
O'Day (John, New Interpreters Bible) suggests that v. 9 refers to all believers, past and present (including us). Then "those" in v. 20 refers to people who are not presently believing, and "their" refers to all believers, including us. It is through our word that an unbelieving world may come to believe in Jesus.
Since our text continues the use of the pronouns "they," "them," the interpreter/preacher needs to decide whether Jesus is praying just for the original disciples or for all of us believers in these verses. The second option seems more preachable to me.
Throughout John, God uses "mediators" to bridge gaps. Jesus comes as the Word and is between humanity and God. John is a mediator whose words bring his disciples to Jesus. Andrew is a mediator whose words bring his brother Peter to Jesus. Philip is a mediator whose words bring Nathanael to Jesus. The entire gospel is described as a mediator whose words are written so that the readers may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God and that through believing they may have life in his name.
None of us have come to faith on our own. There were others whose words -- both spoken and acted -- brought us to faith in Jesus. However the pronouns are interpreted, we who believe now, are the ones who have the word that is necessary to bring others to faith in Jesus.
By using a prayer form, both the disciples and readers are outsiders overhearing Jesus' words -- and it follows the typical pattern of a farewell discourse. A contrast can be made between this prayer of Jesus and his prayer at Gethsemane in the Synoptics -- both coming just before he is arrested. In the Synoptics Jesus asks that he might not face the hour of suffering. In John, this hour of "glory" completes the work God has given him to do (17:4). There is a different attitude as Jesus approaches his death between the synoptics and John.
17 times in this prayer Jesus uses the word "given" (didomi) -- (3 times in our verses).
13 times God gives something to Jesus
people (vv. 2, 6, 6, 9, 12, 24)
glory (vv. 22, 24)
authority (v. 2)
the work (v. 4)
everything (v. 7)
the word (v. 8)
God's name (v. 11)
4 times Jesus gives something to people
eternal life (v. 2)
the word (vv. 8, 14)
the glory (v. 22)
Two "gifts" are used in both lists. God gives Jesus "the word" and "the glory," which Jesus then gives to us. Two implications: (1) God is the source of everything for Jesus and for the faith community; and (2) The relationship between the Father and the Son as illustrated by the "giving" Father, is the same relationship between the "giving" Jesus and the faith community.
The "where" of Jesus' prayer in v. 24: "Where I am they also might be with me," refers more to the relationship with the Father than being at a particular place. Where Jesus is and where we are to be is "children" in relationship with the Father. What this implies is that we are to be in a relationship to receive what the Father/Jesus wants to give us.
The word "world" (kosmos) occurs 11 times in our text (18 times in ch. 17). Three different prepositions are used in terms of our relationship with the world (kosmos). The quoted definitions come from Lowe and Nida's Greek-English Lexicon.
THE FIRST is en (17:11, 11, 13) = "in the world". Defining en as "a position on the surface of an area" and defining kosmos as "the surface of the earth," en + kosmos seems to mean: "living on the planet." We continue to live on planet earth, but Jesus no longer lives here..
THE SECOND is ek (17:14, 14, 15, 16, 16) = "from the world". In vv. 14 & 16 the verb "to be" is used. ek with the verb "to be" can mean "to belong to" as the NRSV translates it. (The same construction is used in 1C 12:15f about "belonging to" or "being part of" the body.) ek can also refer to the "source of activity or state". Neither Jesus nor we are to "belong to the world" nor "have the world as the source of our activity or existence."
In these cases, I think that the meaning of kosmos changes. It is no longer the "surface of the earth," but one of the following definitions:
"the system of practices and standards associated with a secular society (that is, without reference to any demands or requirements of God)"
"people associated with a world system and estranged from God"
The "world's standards" are not to be the source of our existence. We are separated from the "people of the world".
In v. 15, the verb is airo, = "to take". In this case, kosmos may again mean the "surface of the earth" and ek means "dissociation from". Jesus does not ask God to remove us from this planet. (Perhaps a comment about the Heaven's Gate or other cults could be made here.) kosmos may mean the "people of the world," who are estranged from God. In this case, Jesus does not ask God to remove us from sinful society, e.g., seeking to form Christian utopias. In conjunction with the preceding paragraph, we are separated from the "people of the world" in terms of the source of our behaviors and self-identity, but we are not separated from the "people of the world" in terms of physical proximity. We continue to live next door to them.
THE THIRD preposition is eis (17:18, 18) = "into the world". Usually this preposition indicates movement "into" or "towards" something. Like en it can also mean "a position on the surface of an area." So the phrase could mean that God sent Jesus and sends us to planet earth -- this is the place of our ministry, perhaps in contrast to those who are "So heavenly minded that they are no earthly good." The phrase could also mean that God sent Jesus and sends us "into" or among the "people of the world." Not only does God not take us away from "these people," God sends us to them! (When we realize what happened when God sent Jesus to them, this is not a comforting word -- but there was/is resurrection.)
Three times in our verses, Jesus asks God to "keep/protect" them/us (vv. 11, 12, 15). This word tereo is frequently used of "keeping" God's word or commandments (8:51, 52, 55; 14:15, 21, 23, 24; 15:10, 20; 17:6). A nearly synonymous word phylasso is used in v. 12, which like our word "guard" can refer to imprisonment.
Do we want to be "kept" or "guarded"? I've seen more than a handful of toddlers who did not like being kept in a car seat; and a number of adults who rebel against the protection of wearing motorcycle helmets or seat belts because they are too restrictive. Even though such actions are for their own safety, they don't like it. They scream out against such "protective" measures. Could our rebellion from what may be good and safe for us be part of our original sin? We don't want to be kept or guarded -- even if it is for our own good.
"Kept in your name" (vv. 11, 12) would seem to refer to "causing one to continue in relationship with God." (en in this phrase would seem to indicate a "close personal association.") During his stay on earth, Jesus kept his followers in this state. Now that is leaving, he asks God to cause the relationship to continue. Jesus entrusts the community's life to God. (You're in good hands with All-Mighty.)
If this prayer is answered, then it implies a unity among all believers, because all share the same relationship with God -- a relationship that is not created by us, but by God. We are all in God's good hands.
"Kept from the evil (one)" (v. 15) would seem to refer to "causing one to continue to be separated from the evil (one)." (ek in this phrase would seem to indicate "dissociation from.") Considering the amount of trouble we get into, how much worse might it be if God weren't keeping us from the evil (one)?
"You're weird," the other person said. I didn't get angry. I smiled and said, "Thank you!"
"You're even weirder than I thought!" was the reply.
Can "being weird" be similar to "being sanctified"? I think so.
hagiazo is the verbal form of hagios = "holy". Holy things or people were separated from the normal use for special, religious use. A holy bowl might look just like a normal bowl, but it was separated from normal use for special uses related to the worship of God. A holy person looks just like a normal person, but he or she is separated from "normal" people for special, religious activities. Holy things and people were the same as normal things and people, but kind of different. "Kind of different from normal" sounds like a definition of "weird" to me.
Weird people don't always fit in. Related to what I said earlier, Jesus indicates that we do not belong to the world -- we are not to be like the people of the world. We are to be different. The people of the world will hate us. Why? It is not because of our superior moral lives. That is not the primary meaning of hagiazo. In addition, it was with those who thought that they were "morally superior people" (Pharisees) that Jesus had the most trouble, especially as he, claiming to be God, established relationships with the morally inferior people (sinners). Holiness comes about through the relationship the Holy God establishes with us. Those who received holiness as a gift were at odds with those who worked hard to make themselves holy.
Note that in terms of our sanctification (or divine weirdness) God is the actor. Jesus prays that God would sanctify us (v. 17). (The passive in v. 19 would also imply that God is the one who is doing the sanctifying.) It is not something we do for ourselves. It comes from God. However, God's means of sanctifying us is through the Word -- or more specifically, the Truth from the Word. (We all know that the Word has been used to support Untruths.) In simplest terms, I would say that the Truth of the Word is that we are forgiven sinners, which implies two differences between us and the people of the world.
(1) We recognize and admit our sinfulness. We don't have to cover up or rationalize our mistakes. We know that we are not gods. We don't have to pretend to be more perfect or right than we are.
(2) We recognize and accept the fact that God has forgiven all our sins. We don't have to wallow in our mistakes. We live in the freedom of forgiveness. Out of that freedom, we can respond with praise and love towards God, and with love and forgiveness towards other people. We have the freedom to be weird -- different from people of the world -- and to invite them to share in the weirdness that God gives.
I used the following paragraphs in a sermon:
There are right ways to be weird. There are times when being called weird is a compliment. The Truth declares that God has crowned every human being with glory and honor -- not just you and your friends, but everyone. If God has crowned you with glory and honor, how can you belittle yourself? You are important to God. If God has crowned the person next to you or across the room or across town with glory and honor, how can you belittle them? They are also important to God. We treat ourselves and others with respect and care and love -- because we know that that's the way God treats us and others. If people call you weird because of that, it's a compliment. You are being sanctified by the truth.
Being called "weird" is a compliment if it's because you won't go to parties where alcohol is served (for the youth) or abused (for adults). Being called "weird" is a compliment if it's because you won't use illegal drugs or abuse legal drugs. Being called "weird" is a compliment if it's because you want to wait until marriage to be sexually involved. Being called "weird" is a compliment if it's because you would rather go to church on Sunday morning than sleep in or to stay out too late on Saturday night. Being called "weird" is a compliment if it's because you won't shop-lift or steal or vandalize other's property. Being called "weird" is a compliment if it's because you honor and respect your father and mother -- and want to do what they say -- at least some of the time. Being called "weird" is a compliment if it's because you are content not to go along with the crowd, because you know who you are and whose you are. You are Christians -- children of God. You belong to God, not to the world. You don't have to be like everyone else. You can dare to be different -- not just to be different, but to be weird because you belong to God and not to the world.
Note, while many of the examples are moral behaviors, it is not the behaviors that are most significant, but the relationship with God that leads to the behaviors.
I think that sanctification can result with us being a bit weird -- and being weird because of our relationship with God might be a concept more understandable to people than the phrase "being sanctified."
Another approach I've taken to sanctification is to compare it with the process of maturing. Justification is like being born and sanctification is like growing up to become what we were born to be. We are both exactly the same person (e.g., our DNA remains the same throughout our lives) and a different person today from when we were five days or five years or fifteen years old. We have more knowledge. We usually become more responsible. For a while our strength increases, then it may decrease. Beyond these, I read the following on a website:
[A]ll the cells in the human body (except brain cells) renew themselves, with old cells dying and being replaced. The rate of renewal depends on the type of tissue. Blood renews itself completely three times in a year, the gut lining is renewed every three days and the skeleton is renewed every four years. This means that no part of the body, even in very old people, is more than 10 years old.
So, except for our brains, we have entirely new bodies every 10 years. We are constantly changing. One cell replacing another cell.
Similarly, I think, the faith we have today is both exactly the same and different from what God gave us at baptism. We might say that the DNA of that faith remains constant, but our understanding, our knowledge, our responsibly living of the faith is always changing.
Maturing is a natural process, but it can be hindered or block by the lack of tender loving care, good nutrition, education, healthy environments, adequate role models, etc. Another hindrance is "atrophy," which is a technical term meaning, "if you don't use it, you loose it." If a muscle is not used, it wastes away and becomes unusable.
Sanctification or maturing in the faith will happen naturally when the faith is fed from the Word and Sacraments, when there is proper Christian education, when there are faithful role models, when there are opportunities to exercise faith. While we can't create faith or make it grow, we can either hinder and block its growth or we can do what we can to fertilize and feed the seed of faith God has given us.
O'Day raises the interesting question: "It is interesting to ponder how the Christian community's self-definition would be changed if it took as its beginning point, 'We are a community for whom Jesus prays.'" [p. 798]
Have you thought of putting yourself on your prayer chain. That has happened to me when I've been sick, but what about having the prayer group constantly praying for the pastor -- even when s/he is not sick and when there are not conflicts in the congregation. I am certain that a large part of the effectiveness of a pastor's ministry and the ministry of the congregation is dependent upon the people's prayers for one another.
I know a pastor who used the church directory and prayed for every member of the congregation. The people knew that their pastor was praying for them.
We have been assured that Jesus' prays for us. Which means, first of all, that we are in need of prayer. We can't do it by ourselves. Secondly, we are guaranteed help from God. How could the Father refuse the Son's requests? However, we may not always want God's help that Jesus has asked for. We may want to be part of the world, rather than hated by the world. We may want to stay in our own "safe" areas, rather than to be sent into the world. We may want to keep our individual identities, rather than wanting the unity that becomes our witness to the world.
Do we want Jesus praying for us? If so, we need to listen carefully to what he has requested from God. We need to prepare ourselves for God to answer -- and to be the answer God uses.
Faith Lutheran Church, 1000 D St., Marysville, CA 95901