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Jesus' Prayer for Us 
By Dr. Todd B. Jones

JUNE 5, 2011

Jesus' Prayer for Us
Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35
John 17:1-11

A whole lot of learning happens not so much by way of hearing, as by way of the things we overhear in life. Reflecting on the home and family in which I grew up, I realize now how profoundly my own worldviews were shaped by the conversations around the dinner table, and among my parents' friends and my aunts and uncles that I overheard. Hearing what is said to you is great. But sometimes overhearing what is said can be even more important. This morning we are invited by John to overhear Jesus' prayer, known since about the fourth century as Jesus' High Priestly Prayer. Jesus' prayer is not directed to us at all. Jesus' prayer, which takes up the whole seventeenth chapter of John's Gospel, is directed to His heavenly Father. Jesus the Son is praying to God the Father, and we are invited by John to overhear the prayer Jesus prays.

Note first how intimate and personal the language and tone of this prayer is. Jesus, who calls God "Father" more than any other name in John's Gospel, uses "I" – "you" pronouns, the most personal of language to address God in prayer. It is no distant Deity that Jesus addresses, but rather a God who is deeply personal, intimate and close at hand. 

Note as well that the direction and focus of Jesus' high priestly prayer is for Jesus' followers, the Church. This prayer is not so much a prayer for Jesus, as was the prayer Jesus offered to God in Gethsemane, but this is a prayer for His disciples, His followers – as such, it is a prayer for us.

And what Jesus prays for us is really quite simple. First, Jesus prays that we would know God. Listen to how Jesus puts it: "And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent." For John, to know truly who God is, is to have eternal life. Remember John 3:16? "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." Eternal life for John is not something that happens in the "by and by" or once you die. It is not simply length of years Jesus speaks of here when He prays for us to know God. Eternal life for John is also a quality of life that begins here and now for the believer. And the surest sign that we have this gift that Jesus prays for us is found in the relationship, the living connection we have with God, and with His Son Jesus Christ.

This prayer is at once very deep and very simple, as is much of what Jesus says in the Gospels. Jesus prays for His followers, and He prays that they (we) will know God, and in knowing the only true God, will have eternal life.

Secondly, Jesus prays that we as His followers "will be one." Again, listen to how Jesus puts it: "Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one." This prayer for our oneness will be repeated three more times in this chapter by Jesus in His prayer to the Father. It is one of Jesus' most ardent prayers for the Church, that we will be one. And, of course, it has proven to be one of the most difficult things for Jesus' followers to maintain. The Church is always threatened by division, and it has never been, and will never be easy to maintain our oneness as Jesus' people.

But that does not change the force and substance of Jesus' prayer for us: That we would know God, truly, and that we would be one. I cannot help but to wonder if the two are not connected. To know God, truly to know the God Jesus called Father, is to want to be one with all God's people. To be one with this God who gives eternal life is to seek to be one with those Jesus calls as His own. I see no other way to read this prayer, and no other way to understand the Gospel. The whole Gospel can be summed up in three of Jesus' words: "Love one another."

And as simple as this message is, to maintain what Ephesians called, "the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" or "oneness," it is not always easy to do. I read recently a comment by Peter Stuyvesant, one of the founders of New Amsterdam, which is what New York was first called. Peter Stuyvesant was part of the Dutch Calvinist community that first founded what we call New York City today. (To this day there is a section of Brooklyn called Bedford-Stuyvesant.) The community was asking whether or not to make room for Jews in their city. Not surprisingly, these Calvinists knew of the Old Testament covenant that tells the story of the Jews as God's chosen people. But I love how honest and candid Stuyvesant was: "Do we really have to accept the Jews, because if we do, we'll have to accept the Roman Catholics and those horrid Lutherans?"

You might not be so honest as Stuyvesant was, but you know the feeling he was expressing, don't you? Don't we all struggle to be one with our fellow human beings, especially when they look and feel different from us? That is the real challenge of being a Christian and being in the Church. The Church has never been a voluntary group of like-minded people. It is what Paul called "the Body of Christ, where the eye cannot say to the hand, 'I have no need of you.'" Jesus prays for us to be one, as He is one with the Father. And that is not always easy for us to do. 

That is why the symbol for love in the Church has never been Cupid, a blindfolded baby in diapers who has a bow drawn. Cupid is the symbol of romance, of falling blindly in love. But in the Church, love is open-eyed, and it is a grown-up thing. That is why the symbol of love in the Church has always been the cross. The cross enables us to see how costly love always is, and how dangerous it can be.

Jesus prays that we His followers will be one, and we are always wanting to limit or qualify His words. We want to choose those with whom we will be one with, don't we? We are not sure we want to be one with just any Christian, especially those with whom we disagree. But Jesus' prayer never changes. He prays for us, His followers, that we would be one.

I think this is one of the many reasons why families are so important. You don't pick your families. Yet it is in them that we learn what it means to be one, even when we disagree. And we are to take those lessons that we learn in our families and carry them out into the world. They are not easy lessons to learn, and none of us probably are in danger right now of fulfilling Jesus' prayer that we be one. All of us are narrower and more limited in our love than Jesus prays that we will be.

So here is my question: Are you growing in your love for others? Are you growing more at one with God, and hence more at one with others? Is your relationship with Jesus making you more accepting, more connected to others, especially those with whom you differ deeply?

So let me close with a story of this call to be one. I hope it will not surprise you that it comes from the game of baseball. I have been reading Jim Kaplan's, The Greatest Game Ever Pitched, which tells the story of the July 2, 1963 game between the Milwaukee Braves and the San Francisco Giants in Candlestick Park. It went sixteen innings, and the game remained a scoreless tie for fifteen-and-a-half of them. The game ended in the bottom of the sixteenth with a Willie Mays' home run. Forty-two-year-old Warren Spahn battled twenty-five-year-old Juan Marichal. Both pitched sixteen innings, and both threw masterpieces. Both are Hall of Fame pitchers today.

But there were once serious doubts that Marichal ever should be … not because he was not a great pitcher, but because of the events of August 22, 1965. It was the day of what has come to be called, "the Roseboro incident." The Dodgers and Giants were involved in a tight pennant race, and the Dodgers and Giants had a long history of intense and sometimes bitter rivalry. Maury Wills bunted for a single in the first inning for the Dodgers. (He would be the league's Most Valuable Player that season.) So the next time Wills came up, Marichal threw him a high, inside pitch, knocking Wills down to the ground. In baseball, they call this "chin music," or a "knock-down pitch." When it happens, the other team's pitcher is supposed to retaliate. Only the other pitcher this day was Sandy Koufax, who could never bring himself to throw at a hitter. (Koufax was so fast, maybe he knew if he ever hit a batter he would seriously harm him.) John Roseboro, the Dodgers' catcher, was furious with Marichal and frustrated that Koufax was not going to retaliate. So when Marichal came to the plate, Roseboro called for an inside pitch. Koufax threw it for a strike. Roseboro dropped the ball on purpose behind Marichal, and threw it back as fast as he could, right by Marichal's right ear. Marichal claimed he felt it tip his ear. He turned, enraged, and said, "Why did you do that?" Roseboro took off his mask and went for Marichal as if to hit him. (He uttered words I cannot repeat in church!) In a moment he would forever regret, Marichal took his bat and whacked Roseboro over the head, opening a bleeding wound over his eye. Both benches emptied. Marichal was thrown out of the game. He was fined and suspended. Later, Roseboro hired a lawyer and sued Juan Marichal. (They settled out of court for $7,500!)

But what makes the story worth telling is how it ends. Marichal was horrified by his own actions. Marichal immediately apologized to Roseboro, but that was not enough for him. In 1974, when enough time had passed, he reached out to John Roseboro and asked for forgiveness. The two of them reconciled. Roseboro said, "My father was not a man to hold grudges." And the Marichals invited the Roseboros to come spend a week with them at their Dominican home. They did this for many subsequent winters, building a real friendship. When Marichal was elected to the Hall of Fame, he called Roseboro to offer him the news. The two of them wept on the phone.

Jesus calls us to love one another. Jesus bids us to love even our enemies. And He prays for us to be one. Jesus teaches us to reject what is narrow and provincial in the name of what is universal. Jesus knew that just as all rivers finally meet in the sea, so all people, races and nations finally meet in God. Do you?

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