Gospel Reflection for the Seventh Sunday of Easter – 21st May 2023 Written by Fr Brian Maher OMI
If anybody tells you that this is an easy Gospel to understand, then they have spent many, many years studying scripture or they are telling fibs!
Like everything in John’s Gospel, there is almost one hundred years of reflection, prayer, and conversation behind everything that is written. That is not to say that John’s Gospel is not an accurate account of Jesus’ life. Of course it is. It is based on the stories, memories and exchanges Jesus had with friend’s and enemies alike, as well recorded eye-witness testimonies from those who were with Jesus.
However, the men and women who witnessed the Resurrection and struggled to comprehend what had happened to them would not have had either the clarity or the words to express things in the way today’s Gospel express them.
Those who lived through that first Easter were, like all of us have to do, responding to incomprehensible events in real time. Doubts, questions, conflicts, disbelief, turmoil, were all part of their response just as they are part of our reaction to major traumas in our lives.
We cannot underestimate the emotional depths they were experiencing: The shock and grief of his death, the amazing accounts of his resurrection shortly afterwards, his appearances to those closest to him in life, the gradual realisation that he did truly live again but now in a ‘different’ way, his departing from them at the ascension, and then the life changing confidence, power and clarity they received at Pentecost, must have left them breathless. Joyful, certainly, and with a new, unshakable faith in Jesus, but still struggling to join the dots and make sense of what was happening to them.
There are many ways we can read today’s Gospel. We can focus on the years of reflection that shaped it, rejoicing in the relationship between Father and Son expressed so clearly. We can also read it simply as it is written – as a prayer of Jesus for his followers, for us! Looking at it in this way, as a prayer, is probably the best way for us to enter into it in a liturgical context.
And what a beautiful prayer Jesus gives us.
Firstly, it is worth reminding ourselves that it was not written in a time of peace and tranquillity. The Romans still ruled in Israel, but now with an iron fist after the Jewish revolt of 67ad. – a revolt which lasted three years and resulted in the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.
As a tiny group of defenceless followers of Jesus, they were looked on with suspicion and growing animosity by Jews as well as being persecuted by Rome. They lived in fear, meeting in secret and unsure if they could survive.
Reading the Gospel in this light, we can better marvel at the faith and trust we encounter in the prayer. It expresses an absolute confidence in the person of Jesus, risen from the dead and now living with the Father in glory. It is not a prayer which presumes that all is well and their problems are solved. Rather, it acknowledges the power of Easter, and states that with Jesus risen from the dead and with them, all will be well. It is not a naïve prayer or a foolhardy one. Their suffering is real, as is their faith.
In today’s world, where we are constantly presented with the awful cruelties we perpetrate against one another and our planet, this Gospel is a challenge to us. Can we honestly pray with the same faith and confidence expressed by these suffering, first century followers of Jesus?
Secondly, it is good to read this Gospel knowing that everything Jesus said and did while on earth revealed to us the Father. Jesus came to show us the Father, and to leave us “an example that we should follow in his footsteps.” (1 Peter 2:21)
The ‘Our Father’ is the great prayer of Jesus, his response to the apostles asking him, “teach us how to pray…” Today, Jesus “raises his eyes to heaven…” and once more teaches us how to pray. He says it clearly to us; “…I pray for them…”. Remember the “them” here is us, his followers who are still “…in the world”.
So, what does Jesus tell us in this prayer about the God he is revealing?
It is impossible not to notice the amazing closeness Jesus has with the Father. It leaps out at us, expressed in almost every line. More than that, Jesus expresses this closeness in an informal, confident way without ever losing the reverence with which he holds the Father.
He is confident, almost demanding, in the way he addresses his father. “Father, the hour has come: glorify your son….”, “…Now Father, it is time for you to glorify me….”
Yet nowhere does he speak in a flippant or dismissive way. He acknowledges in everything he says that “…all you have given me comes indeed from you.” There is no hint of pride or arrogance in what he says or the way he says it.
Confident and informal, yet reverent and without pride or arrogance. All of us, I believe, can learn from this. We often criticise others, or hear others criticised, for not showing enough reverence in Church or in prayer. In a similar way we criticise others, or hear them criticised, as being too caught in ritual and tradition when it comes to liturgy and devotion.
Jesus ‘knows’ the Father, and he knows the relationship the Father wishes to have with his people. Here, Jesus is speaking, not to a God on a throne, cold and distant from the world, but to a Father, with whom he has a relationship and who, he knows, loves and cares for him.
But nothing is taken for granted in his relationship with his Father. He has been ‘sent’ by the Father and he owes everything he has to the father.
His relationship with his Father is a balanced one: Friendly and familiar, yet respectful and humble. Exactly how any son or daughter would want to relate to their own Father (or Mother). What Jesus shows us is no different. When we say that marriage images the relationship God has with his Church, and when we say that parents reflect God to their children it is, maybe, truer than we realise.
There is one other thing in this Gospel that I think is well worth reflecting on:
In the Gospel we are told that “…before ever the world was…” Jesus was with the Father. The absolute trust Jesus shows in the Father, his confidence in talking to the Father is based on a relationship he knows and experiences.
But… note this too: Jesus expresses the same trust and confidence in us! This may come as a surprise but it is there, clearly stated in the Gospel. Here is what he says, “…I have given them the teaching you gave to me, and they have truly accepted this, that I came from you…”. Jesus is confidently telling the Father that “they” (his followers) “have truly accepted this, that I came from you…”. He goes further and says, “…in them am I glorified.”
What trust God has in us. We may struggle to trust one another or even ourselves at times, but believe it or not, we are trusted – absolutely – by God, to carry on the work begun by Jesus.
We talk so much about our faith in God, but how often do we think about God’s faith in us? It is both overwhelming and humbling to realise that Jesus feels that, “…in them (in us) am I glorified.”
Imagine, people who denied him, abandoned him, doubted him, misunderstood him, fell asleep when he needed their support most….and he can still say that “…in them am I glorified.”
The relationship Jesus has with his Father is the reason why he can speak with such trust and confidence to his Father. The trust he has in us, and the confidence with which he says, ““…in them am I glorified.” must also come from his relationship with those he called his friends on this earth.
Despite everything, Jesus saw something immeasurably valuable in those who were so obviously weak. He saw more in Peter, Thomas and the others than they saw in themselves. And the wonder is that he still does!
Today, as you listen to the Gospel, let Jesus, God, speak to you…just you. In the Gospel let him whisper, “you have been chosen by my Father to be mine in this world, and I trust you to be my witness. I believe…that in you I am glorified.”
If we feel daunted by this, do not fear, next week the Holy Spirit comes to us in the great Feast of Pentecost.
If you have any comments, questions or thoughts on this scripture reflection, please feel welcome to email me at email@example.com
Father, it is time for you to glorify me
Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and said: “Father, the hour has come: glorify your Son so that your Son may glorify you; and, through the power over all mankind that you have given him, let him give eternal life to all those you have entrusted to him. And eternal life is this: to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I have glorified you on earth and finished the work that you gave me to do. Now, Father, it is time for you to glorify me with that glory I had with you before ever the world was. I have made your name known to the men you took from the world to give me. They were yours and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now at last they know that all you have given me comes indeed from you; for I have given them the teaching you gave to me, and they have truly accepted this, that I came from you, and have believed that it was you who sent me. I pray for them; I am not praying for the world but for those you have given me, because they belong to you: all I have is yours and all you have is mine, and in them I am glorified. I am not in the world any longer, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you.”
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