Jesus’ prayer: context

1 When Jesus had said this, he raised his eyes to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come. Give glory to your son, so that your son may glorify you, 2 just as you gave him authority over all people, so that he may give eternal life to all you gave him. 3 Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ. 4 I glorified you on earth by accomplishing the work that you gave me to do. 5 Now glorify me, Father, with you, with the glory that I had with you before the world began. 6 “I revealed your name to those whom you gave me out of the world. They belonged to you, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything you gave me is from you, 8 because the words you gave to me I have given to them, and they accepted them and truly understood that I came from you, and they have believed that you sent me. 9 I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for the ones you have given me, because they are yours, 10 and everything of mine is yours and everything of yours is mine, and I have been glorified in them. 11 And now I will no longer be in the world, but they are in the world, while I am coming to you.

Introduction. “Jesus’ prayer in John 17:1–26 is the final scene of his farewell meal with his disciples. Since the sixteenth century, the traditional title of this prayer has been ‘Jesus’ high priestly prayer.’” (O’Day, 787) It shares many similarities with farewell speeches in the OT, e.g., Moses in Deuteronomy (31:30-32:47) as the Israelites are entering the promised land and Moses is at the end of his life.

The prayer in John 17, however, is not the conventional prayer of a dying man. Indeed, Jesus’ farewell is about the full constellation of the events of Jesus’ hour—death, resurrection, and ascension—not simply his death. The prayer of John 17 is thus not a death-bed prayer, but the prayer of the One on the verge of willingly laying down his life and thus completing God’s work. (O’Day, 787)

The gospel text is part of a larger section which includes the Last Supper and all that takes place after Jesus had washed the disciples’ feet, after Judas has left the table (“he took the morsel and left at once. And it was night” (13:30)), and after Peter’s protestations he would never betray Jesus.  The section comes before the disciples see their master led away for trial; then be condemned to death on a cross. Their faith will be sorely tested. Jesus’ teaching, beginning in 14:1, was given to strengthen for the hours, days, months and years to come.

O’Day suggests a broad outline of the context for our reading:

  • The Farewell Meal (13:1-38) – focuses on Jesus’ departure and discusses the disciples’ relation to Jesus and their conflict with the world.
  • The Farewell Discourse (14:1-16:33) – develops these same themes, moving from the relationship of Jesus to the disciples, using the figure of the vine and the branches (15:1-17), to the conflict between the disciples and the world (15:18-16:15), and on to a promise to the disciples of joy in the future after the sorrow of this time of separation (16:16-33).
  • The Farewell Prayer (17:1-26) in which Jesus takes all above and offers it up in prayer to his Heavenly Father

Throughout, the overall theme is the Father’s presence with the disciples and the Son’s and Spirit’s roles in mediating his presence. As a way of establishing a context lets first consider a wider view of at least a portion of our passage by considering the text surrounding Jesus’ departure (13:31-14:31).

Note: This is the gospel reading for the 7th Sunday of Easter. In the United States, the Solemnity of the Ascension is transferred to the 7th Sunday. And so, people do not often hear this gospel proclaimed.

Sources

  • Gail R. O’Day, John in the New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 9, ed. Leander E. Keck (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996) 739-46
  • Scripture quotes from New American Bible by Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. © 1991, 1986, 1970
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