by Harry Banks
by Harry Banks, August 24, 2014
Exploring the prayer of Jesus in John 17. You may have already committed this prayer to your soul but I feel like I’m just now engaging with this portion of scripture. You are invited to tag along as I stroll through some of the prayer elements that catch my attention. (This is not meant to be an exhaustive, scholarly discussion but more like some personal reflective observations.)
1 After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: "Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. 2 For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. (TNIV)
“Father” – there it is… he’s part of the family… All of those comments about “Our Father” from the Lord’s Prayer apply here, except this time it is more personal. It is Jesus directly addressing his Father.
IT IS TIME
“The hour has come” – Here we are at the hinge of history. The moment of ultimate engagement between forces of Good and Evil.
I once had a guest of the house leave a note in German on the desk in his room. It ended “Est ist Zite.” “It is time.” He had stepped out to attempt suicide. (It was only an attempt, and a hectic 10 days later he was safely returned home.) Jesus said, “The hour has come.” Is there any way for a mere mortal to understand the import and magnitude of this “hour”? I stand back in wonder trying to take it in. . . .
Have you ever been on a team where everybody gives credit to the other team members? This spring I had one of my students make an exclusive “Dream Team,” which entitled him to a trip to San Francisco, 10 days in a hotel, a meeting with the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, a VIP Pass, and a high profile LinkedIn listing. As I proudly told faculty and staff and friends about the success of my student, they kept reminding me that “You are his instructor, and you deserve credit too. . . .”
Well, that’s my poor attempt at trying to get a handle on this relationship where recognition is reciprocated between FATHER and SON. As for the “Glorify,” I have no clue. I can imagine radiance, honor, reverence, some awe… but I get lost somewhere along the line and hope someday this will become more understandable. . . .
But what about the context…? Talking “Glorify” hours before death, risk of ultimate annihilation. Is there any awareness of the pending violent events ahead? But here the conversation between Father and Son is about Glorifying. How committed must both Father and Son be to mutually consider this “hour” a time for mutual glorification! I shake my head.
But it also suggests a concern that may be an appropriate question for the reader of this prayer to ask… If it is important for the Son to glorify the Father, what should be the reader’s concern for honoring and glorifying his or her redeemer? If this is important enough to consider at this ultimate moment… Maybe behaving in a way to honor or glorify the Son and the Father must be very, very, very important. Seems like an ultimate question that needs constant monitoring.
Remember earlier in John when Jesus talked about being the Vine and we the branches. And he talked about “abiding” in him. Here it seems we get an implied glimpse into what goes on in an “abiding” relationship with God the Father. There seems to be a lot of “giving.” The reference to “giving” occurs several times in this prayer.
“For you granted him authority over all people…” (other translations say “gave”). Here is the beginning of the “giving.” What a family! This is not just dad giving the son a new car… or handing over the estate or company… What could it ever mean to give “authority over all people”? What kind of trust? What kind of respect? What kind of love allows a Father to give His son “authority over all people”? As the only fulltime faculty for my department I have signature authority for expenditures on my budget… I hold some other positions, which give me other levels of authority. I evaluate and sign official and required documents, all as part of my authority. But “authority over all people”? Not even close…
I’ve been an executive officer, negotiated contracts, done hiring and firing. Mediated employee disciplinary actions. I hold students’ futures in my hands. I have even been accused of “changing lives” (in a good way). But compared to the level of “authority over all people” I definitely have a higher level of authority to answer to. What responsibility do you and I have to make sure we are answering to the One who has “authority over all people”? What must the One who has “authority over all people” think when we overstep and hold His authority in contempt? Is that really a game I want to play?
At this pivotal moment of Salvation History it is firmly declared that the purpose for the “authority over all people” is so “he might give eternal life.”
The young daughter of a friend told her dad she is afraid of “eternal life”… What could that be like? Everything has an ending here. What if things went on.. and on… and on… In the little book “Oh Ye Jigs and Juleps,” Virginia, who is evidently writing essays for her Episcopalian catechetical training, says, “The Bishop says that God’s greatest gift is eternal life. But if it is ok with God she would rather have something else.” Some may smile; some may be offended at the flip view of eternal life… but it seems that nearly all of us undervalue this greatest gift of the Father and Son.
Eternal life is a gift from the Son, but with the Father’s total support and backing, and reflects glory on both. On the other hand, there is a strong desire in human beings for eternal permanence. As they say in Fame – the Musical: “I want to live forever.”
But back to the moment of this prayer… Here at this critical moment the best gift Jesus has on his mind is “eternal life.”… How important must this gift be? This theme of eternal life shows up more than once in this prayer… Not to say anything about John’s most famous… “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whosoever believes on him has eternal life” There it is again – “eternal life.” So here, on this earth condemned to extinction by sin, the Son gives eternal life.
EVEN MORE GIVING
THOSE YOU HAVE GIVEN
Who gets this “eternal life”? Answer: ”All those you have given him.” Now the conversation enters the room… Here sit the disciples listening to this prayer, and now they are included in the family conversation. Not only has authority been given… but these very disciples have been given to the Son to be recipients of eternal life.
The book “Good to Great,” which describes several companies who have outperformed stock indices for more than 15 years, talks about “spinning the fly wheel.” Small actions begin to build a momentum which picks up speed and force which eventually begins to become an ever increasing energy carrying the organization forward. Here it seems that this small selection of “those you have given” is the beginning to spin this flywheel of New Testament salvation.
When I read about “those you have given him,” I often wonder. Whom does God intend to “give” to me? For whom am I responsible? If I were to really choose to do “his will” more fully, who would be on my care list? It does seem that there are some people that have been placed in my life by his purpose… The next question is… How well am I fulfilling His purpose? Does it glorify him? Just some stuff I wonder about…
WHAT A BEGINNING
What a beginning to this most precious prayer! Father and Son intimately engaged in giving a glorious gift which gives comprehensive authority, disciples, and eternal life.
TIME OUT FOR PRAYER (OR NOT)
OK, so in the discussion of John 17 there is an implication that…, of course…, everybody prays…
Yeah… I know better… Some think prayer is a waste of time. It’s a distraction, which can keep people from dealing with facts or reality. Some have had disappointing or disastrous encounters with events or individuals or institutions, which have left them “unable” to pray.
Over the years I’ve had a chance to come close to a wide variety of spiritual journeys and experience. Prayer cannot be forced. It cannot be explained in a way to force belief. Along the way I have run across a few summary bullet points which seems to have helped some of my friends make it through some extremely difficult stages of spiritual growth.
Gerald May, MD, a Christian psychiatrist, in his little book “Simply Sane” suggests that one of the ways to allow or invite change into our lives is not by “fixing” or mandating change but rather by what he calls “gentle meddling.” He devotes a chapter to “Gentle Meddling” and lists brief observations under several different topics. When it comes to prayer, on page 113 he notes:
2. Do the best you can
3. Accept the whole situation
4. Watch with awe
If you don’t pray:
1. Do the best you can
2. Accept the whole situation
3. Watch with awe
If you can’t pray:
1. Do the best you can
2. Accept the whole situation
3. Watch with awe
4. Be still and listen”
I’m not suggesting that this is a one-answer-that-fixes-all, but as I mentioned, several of my friends have found these tips to be helpful in finding their spiritual horizon when life has spun them around and flipped them head over heels a few times.
One of the striking aspects of the John 17 prayer… In addition to “The Lord’s Prayer” it demonstrates that, for whatever reason, Jesus considered prayer a vital expression of spiritual practice at this critical point of ultimate sacrifice. It sort of looks like, if it is good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me.