Jesus had a vision for his disciples. He prayed for it to become reality.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus offers a prayer just before he is arrested. While the Synoptic Gospels record the agony in the garden, when Jesus’ followers fall asleep as he prays not to be crucified, John has a different tradition regarding Jesus’ final moments with the disciples. In John, Jesus prays primarily for his followers, not himself. Within the prayer, we are given important information about how Jesus understands their future work.
‘When I was with them, I protected them in your name.’ (Jn 17:12)
How do you promote truth in the world?
What do you do when you have doubts?
How do you help people who lack certainty in their faith?
Jesus asks the Father in heaven for protection for the disciples, which reveals the perils of discipleship. Jesus wants them to be safe from those in the world who hate him, and them by extension. Likewise, Jesus asks that they are protected “so that they may be one just as we are one.”
Most scholars believe the Gospel of John was written toward the end of the first century, over 60 years after Jesus’ crucifixion. John reflects some of the inner conflicts that likely emerged after Jesus’ death. Jesus’ prayer for his disciples to be one reflects such divisions within the community. John depicts Jesus calling instead for unity, just as he is united with the Father in heaven.
Importantly, at the end of the Gospel, Jesus says that his followers are sent into the world “consecrated in truth,” calling on them to spread the good news openly and honestly. At the beginning of John, Jesus is called the true light (Jn 1:9). Early in his ministry, Jesus interacts with Nicodemus and emphasizes that those who seek truth will come to the light (Jn 3:19-21). Now, at the end of his ministry, Jesus reaffirms the importance of truth as an element of the continued work that is entrusted to the disciples.
The second reading explains how that truth comes about through love, by which “God remains in us.” Divine love is truly perfected within the community and empowered by the Holy Spirit, and acts of love enable the good news to be spread truthfully.
As we near the end of the Easter season, today’s Gospel is a reminder to be confident in faith, knowing that God is present in the world. Jesus’ final prayer offers instructions for the continued proclamation of the good news while imploring the disciples to be confident that Jesus has assured their care. As we continue to spread the Gospel today, even when confronted with hatred and animosity, we too can be assured of God’s love and protection.