How and for what we pray reveals a lot. At a very deep level our prayer describes our worldview, our life, relationships, priorities and concerns. It manifests our view of the spiritual journey and its purpose. Ultimately our prayer reveals our understanding of who God is and how God relates to creation and humanity.
If we view God as angry and judgmental we will pray in a particular way and for particular things. This prayer will be very different from one which views God as loving, compassionate, and caring. Again, if our image of God is one in which God is keeping score of our life and handing out rewards or punishments based upon our score, we will pray in a particular way. Or maybe we see God as the one who is to “fix” everything, change outcomes, and give good gifts – kind of like Santa Clause. If that is our image of God our prayer becomes one of sending God our wish list along with examples of our good behavior.
This concept of the relationship between our prayer and our beliefs is sometimes referred to as lex orandi, lex credendi. The law of prayer is the law of belief. We tend to pray what we believe. If you had the opportunity to listen to someone pray or honestly describe their life of prayer, you would, over time, begin to see what that person believes about the world, others, themselves, and God. You would learn about their life, relationships, fears, joys, and sorrows. You would discover their image of and relationship to God.
Today we are given that opportunity with regard to Jesus. Today’s gospel, John 17:6-19, allows us to overhear a portion of Jesus’ prayer to the Father. This prayer is sometimes referred to as Jesus’ high priestly prayer. It takes place on the night of the last supper. Supper has been eaten, feet have been washed, and Jesus has taught his disciples. Judas has left the table – the betrayal has begun. And now Jesus looks to heaven in prayer to his Father and our Father.
What do we learn from Jesus’ prayer?
- Jesus prays for us. He does not pray for himself and the upcoming passion. He prays for us. We, his disciples, are his priority and concern. His prayer reveals his love, loyalty and commitment to his people.
- We are possessed by the Father who gives us to Jesus. Jesus in his prayer offers us back to the Father. We are the gift exchanged between the Father and the Son. Our identity, origin, and life are grounded in this unity of sharing and giving between the Father and the Son. “All mine are yours, and yours are mine,” Jesus prays (John 17:10). We are an intimate part of the relationship between Jesus and the Father.
- Our possession by the Father does not, however, remove us from the risks of life in the world. In fact, Jesus explicitly states he is not asking the Father to remove us from the world. Instead he is sending us into the world even as he was sent into the world by the Father. The “world” does not necessarily refer to creation. In John’s gospel “world” is used almost as a code word for the forces and ways of being and living that oppose and struggle against God. Jesus’ prayer of sending reveals that we are to live in the midst of that struggle and are to follow his way of life and reveal his presence to the world. He trusts us to do this.
- Jesus asks the Fathers’ protection in the midst of this struggle. The world, Jesus knows, is a dangerous place. “Protect them in your name so that they may be one as we are one,” he prays (John 17:11). Biblically, a name is more than just a label. It carries with it the person’s presence, characteristics, qualities, and attributes. Jesus is asking that we be protected by the Father’s divine attributes; things like love, mercy, forgiveness, compassion, justice, beauty, generosity, unity. The focus is not so much on our physical protection but on the protection of our heart, that deep place in which God resides in humanity, that place in which humanity and divinity are united. It is the place from which we too can exhibit the divine attributes.
- Jesus prays for our sanctification – that we might become holy, deified, entering the temple of the heart and participating in God’s life so deeply that we exhibit the divine attributes to the world through our life. To ask for this means that this potentiality for holiness, theosis, is real and offered to humanity. It is the human vocation. It is made possible because God is good, generous, loving, and self-giving.
- Jesus’ prayer is that we become one body – with love, intimacy, giving, mutuality, respect, and dignity – as he and the Father are one. And that this one body would be like God – holy, set apart, filled by and exhibiting the very life and attributes of God.
If this is Christ’s prayer for us, how can we pray anything less for each other and ourselves? If this is Christ’s prayer for our life then it begs a response – not just from the Father, but from us. Every prayer asks not just a divine response but also a human response. We answer Jesus’ prayer everyday with our life.
Whenever we love, offer mercy, or act with compassion we have answered Jesus prayer. Likewise whenever we deny justice, act with indifference, or offer condemnation we have answered Jesus’ prayer. Every moment of our life is an opportunity to answer the prayer of Jesus.
So we are left to ponder. Where and how are we answering Jesus’ prayer?