Sometimes reading John’s Gospel can be real torture for me. The relentless and tangled sentences feel like immersion in some deep pool of words from the Word. Sometimes I feel so deep, especially when we pick-up abruptly in the middle of one of his long discourses like this week’s John 17.6-19 that I can’t find which way is up except by following the bubbles. Perhaps the words themselves are such bubbles, and when I am deeply submerged I should look for the bubbles that seem to be rising for help.
One such set of bubble-words is “given.” It appears an astonishing 75 times in John’s Gospel–nine of them right here. Not only that, but it would seem that the “given-ness” of the disciples for whom Jesus is praying is their defining characteristic. Jesus understands them as the ones “whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me,…” Jesus seems to understand his ministry continuing something which begins and ends with God the Father.
This, alone, would make a great sermon topic. Just try understanding yourself as a gift the Father has given to the Son and vice-versa for a second. A precious heirloom given and given again as an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace of intra-trinitarian love. Usually when we think of gifts given by God we think of vertical variety: stuff coming down to us. But this horizontal transaction suggests something about the nature of the economy of the trinity which should fascinate and tantalize us.
Another place where following the “Given” bubble can be useful is to notice what Jesus is asking for the Father to give the disciples. David Lose does a particularly fine bit of analysis of this part and I would commend his commentary of this Sunday’s Gospel. Here’s an excerpt:
Which means, Dear Partner, that this Sunday might be a really good day on which to remind people that God continues to tell us the truth that this life can be difficult, that God has promised to be with us amid the challenges so that we not only survive but actually flourish, and that God intends to use us wherever we are to work for the good of this world God loves so much. And after sharing the promises tucked away in Jesus’ prayer for his disciples then and now, perhaps we can send people out into the world with a sense of purpose, noting that whether we will be at home or school or work or a place of volunteering, and whether the week brings challenges or blessings or some measure of each, God continues to be with us, strengthen us, and use us to care for each other and this world. (source)
Amen, brother. Indeed, it would appear that now Jesus, who received us from the Father, is now giving us to the world. “As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” Jesus asks his Father to give us protection and sanctification to complete his work, which is the will of the Father. It’s not an easy job, but it’s ours, and we don’t do it alone.