7th Sunday Of Easter
1ST June 2014
John 17: 1-11. Acts 1:12-14. 1 Peter 4:13-16.
Deacon Tony van Vuuren
The reading from John’s Gospel Chapter 17 is described as Jesus’ last will and testament; and takes us back to the upper room during the Last Supper before the crucifixion. Within the context of John’s Gospel the prayer stands as Jesus’ Priestly Prayer; His last public accounting to God for His mission on earth.
Jesus is praying for his disciples, for those who will work to spread his life and message to the world; he declares that his own work is finished: “I have manifested your name” he says to His Father, “I have given them the words, which you gave me”. Jesus’ mission was to reveal God more fully than before and to open up the prospect of “eternal life” – human life lived in knowledge of God and communion with God.
As the time of his death approached he anticipated leaving his disciples to carry on with that mission, down through history: “I am no more in the world, but they are in the world”.
The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles refers to that time when Jesus is “no more in the world”, and we see that the disciples’ response to Jesus’ departure is to wait in Jerusalem as instructed and gather together in the upper room to join in continuous devoted prayer.
Jesus’ own mission was dependent on the contact and communion with His Father, which he maintained by prayer – often very long and intense periods of prayer – and so is the mission of the Christian community.
Luke is saying that the Christian community, before anything else, has to be a community that prays. There are two reasons why prayer is so important. The first thing that we gain from prayer is a sense that God is high above us, and a sense that the appropriate attitude on our part is one of worship and adoration.
When we look at our own sources of guidance about prayer – the Psalms in the Old Testament, for example, or the passages in the gospels that tell us about Jesus’ own practice of prayer, or the breviary, which is a source available to laity as well as clergy; or the writings of the saints in Christian history – they all use very similar images to describe the experience of meeting God in prayer.
In all those sources the images applied to God are those of Lord, King, Master, Father, Shepherd. God is described as someone we look up to, follow, bow to, and kneel before. They’re images of superiority, but not the kind of superiority that inspires fear or dread.
It’s the superiority of holiness and goodness and love – and when we make progress in prayer we get a stronger sense of that, with all the sense of reverence and gratitude that goes along with it.
The second thing we gain from prayer is that our will is drawn into alignment with God’s own will. We start to want what God wants.
Our motivations change.
Prayer loosens the grip of our possessive and self-seeking habits and helps us learn how to offer service without the selfish investment we often make, sometimes without even being conscious of it.
The more we pray to God the more he influences us to be patient and compassionate in our dealings with people and the more he removes our desire to dictate people’s decisions or control results.
The comments that St. Peter makes in his Epistle point in the same direction. Genuine commitment to God involves being willing to suffer ridicule and humiliation, he says. We should be glad when we’re insulted for the sake of Christ.
I don’t think it would be right to interpret Peter’s remarks as encouraging a masochistic attitude, as if all suffering was a good thing in itself. What he was getting at reflected the situation that the first Christians had to live in: their faith in Christ might have been a source of great happiness to them but it also made them a persecuted and ridiculed minority in society at large. St. Peter’s advice to the members of his community is that ridicule might hurt our pride but it also tests the genuineness of our faith.
It might cause some people to abandon their search for God, but if it’s confronted in the right spirit it can help us become detached from another self-interested motive – wanting to be respected or liked or thought well of. As with other forms of suffering, it’s when we’re deprived of ordinary human comfort or support that we can be most open to God’s influence and love.
Peter is appealing to his readers to put knowledge of God and progress in our relationship with God above our desire to be accepted and liked.
The people that God chooses to carry out his work, or – to look at it another way – the people who discover their need for God, aren’t usually people whose personalities are completely flawless and perfect and balanced.
Usually those of us who are most open to God are those who are well aware of our weaknesses and wounds, our negative features. We should avoid being defeatist about our own spiritual lives.
We shouldn’t be so quick to convince ourselves that there are aspects of our character that God somehow can’t change. There should be nothing that – spiritually speaking – makes us think that we have to settle for mediocrity.
The truth is that our temperaments and our personalities are the raw materials that God uses to make us effective disciples. Sometimes it’s our least attractive features, the aspects of ourselves that we dislike the most, that God uses and changes for his purposes. As Christians and present day disciples we are all responsible for carrying on Jesus’ mission whilst we are still in the world.