Saturday, May 20, 2017

Being Longed For

The first half of the High Priestly prayer of Jesus is the appointed text for the 7th Sunday of Easter in the Year of Matthew.  The text is John 17:1-11.  In this text we are overhearing Jesus speaking to his Heavenly Father, and his words encourage us.  We are like children who are supposed to be in bed, who are overhearing their parents talking about their great love for them, and how they belong to them and will never let them go.  We are privileged to hear such good news!

(The following questions follow a pattern of inquiry I have developed in my brief guide to Law and Gospel preaching, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted.  These questions help answer some of the concerns we have as Law and Gospel preachers.  For a more complete understanding of this genre, please see my guide, available from or amazon.)

1.  How does the Word function in the text?  There is no question that this text functions as Gospel in that we overhear Jesus say again and again that we belong to him.  We hear also that Jesus has been given authority by the Father to grant eternal life to all those who belong to him.  Finally we hear Jesus asking the Father to protect those who belong to him.  All of this is a gospel word.

2.  How is the Word not functioning in the text?  As in other John texts appointed for this season, there is little of the Law.  That is to say, it is rare that we hear a word which lifts up our need for Christ.  A hint of this is in the final verse of this text when Jesus says, "Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one."  In this verse Jesus is acknowledging our need for protection, which, in verses following, is explained in greater detail.  It is clear that we need protecting.  But this word is not explicit in these verses.

3.  With whom are you identifying in the text?  We are the ones overhearing this good news.  We are the ones who need protecting.  We are the ones who belong to Christ.  We are the ones who have received the words of the Father through the Son.

4.  What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text?  There is none.  The call to obedience comes to us as the Word functions to call us to respond to the grace we have received in Christ.  In the first lesson appointed for the day, Acts 1:6-14, we hear the call to be witnesses by the power of the Holy Spirit.  This task is a call to obedience.

5.  What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text?  Law/Gospel couplets are hard to come by in texts which are primarily gospel.  Having said that, one couplet that comes directly out of this text is orphaned/belonging.  The orphaned term comes from last week (Jn 14:18), but this is certainly the reverse side of belonging.

6.  Exegetical work:  Raymond Brown, in his classic commentary, has an interesting take on the business of belonging to God:  "In Johannine thought it is not the creation of a man (sic) that makes him belong to God but his reaction to Jesus.  A man cannot accept Jesus unless he belongs to God, and a man cannot belong to God unless he accepts Jesus." (The Gospel According to John XIII-XXI, p. 758)  It seems like a catch-22.  Lamar Williamson notes that "the voice of Jesus and that of the evangelist are frequently blended in the Fourth Gospel, but never more obviously than here.  Nowhere else in any of the four Gospels does Jesus refer to himself as 'Jesus Christ,' though the evangelist does so at Mark 1:1 and John 1:17.  This definition of eternal life - 'to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent' (17:3) - expresses in capsule form the theology of the Fourth Gospel..."(Preaching the Gospel of John, p. 220-221)  In a commentary that is in conversation with others, Gerard Sloyan quotes Ernst Kasemann, who said, "The speaker [of this prayer] is not a needy petitioner but the divine revealer and therefore the prayer moves over into being an address, admonition, consolation, and prophecy." (John, Interpretation Series, p. 196)  Kasemann is correct in that this is no typical prayer, but something much more profound than that. All of these commentaries are well worth reading in their entirety.

7.  How does the Crossings Community model work with this text?  Archived under Year A Gospel for 2011, we have an analysis provided by Mark Marius, who takes several verses from the preceding chapter to complete the circle.  He notes that we belong to the world, and in that belonging, we do not know eternal life.  Jesus, who has conquered the world (Jn 16:33), claims us for himself, and so we know Him, and we know the Father, and so we have eternal life.  See study for the entire analysis.

Blessings on your proclamation!

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