Gospel: John 17:11b-19

A Prayer For The Holy

Are you tempted to divide the world into friend vs. enemy, the good vs. the evil? Why do you have such a world view?

Popular culture sometimes requires a "straw man," someone to blame for social ills in the world. Many times, those images of evil are real. In the twentieth century, the West opposed the tyranny of dying monarchies, the rise and fall of fascism, and the evils of Communism. Today, the West faces the curse of terrorism based on a radical ideology that hides behind the mask of religion.

Many times, those images are illusory. Power politics and the maturation of "political discourse as entertainment" (i.e., talk radio, cable news, and the "blogosphere" on the internet) certainly has raised bashing the straw man to an art form. Yet, is this reality? Is our neighbor really the enemy simply because he or she does not have the same faith or share the same philosophy that we do?

Yes, there are differences that are real. We might not share the same values as those across the street and around the world. And, yes, they might hate us for those differences. But, do they deserve our loathing? Or do they deserve something more?

Jesus prayed to a holy God that we might be holy. He also prayed we would share that holiness with a world that hates us.

Popular Translation

Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and prayed:

11 Father, Holy One. Keep my followers safe with your power. Use the power you gave to me. Then my followers will be united, just like we are united. 12 When I lived with my followers, I always kept them safe with the power you gave me. I guarded them from evil. None of them was lost, except for Judas, the lost son. In this way, the Bible saying came true.

13 Now I come to you, Father. I preached in public so my followers could share my joy to the fullest. 14 I shared your words with them, but the world hates them. The world doesn't own them, just as the world doesn't own me. 15 I don't ask you to take them out of the world, but I pray you will save them from the devil. 16 The world doesn't own them, just as the world doesn't own me. 17 Use your truth to make my followers your special people. Your words are the truth. 18 I sent my followers into the world in the same way you sent me into the world. 19 I promise to be your servant for their sake, so the truth will make them your special people.

Literal Translation

Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and prayed:

11 Holy Father, keep them by your name, (the one) that you have given to ME, so they might be one just as we (are one). 12 When I was with them, I (always) kept them in your name, (the one) that you gave me, and I kept guard (over them), and not one of them was lost, except for the son of the lost, so that the Scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I come to you and I say these (things) in the world so that they might have my joy having been filled up within them. 14 I have given them your word and the world hated them, because they are not of the world, just as I AM not of the world. 15 Not that I ask you to take them from the world, but that you might keep them from the Evil (One). 16 They are not from the world, just as I AM not from the world. 17 Make them holy by the truth. Your word is truth. 18 Just as you sent me into the world, I sent them into the world. 19 I made myself holy on their behalf, so that they might also be made holy by the truth.

17:11 "keep them by your name" means "keep them with your power." Those God keeps will enjoy peace and unity. These are fruits of the Spirit.

17:12 "son of the lost" is Judas Iscariot.

17:11-12 These verses form an "A-B-A" structure:

A: Keep them in your name, the one you gave to me
B: so that they might be one just as we are one.
A: (When I was with them), I kept them in your name, the one you gave me...

The important point of this construct is the "B" theme: unity within the Church.

17:14b-16 These verses also form an "A-B-A" structure.

A: They are not of the world, just as I AM not of the world.
B: I ask you...to keep them from the Evil One.
A: They are not from the world, just as I AM not from the world.

Notice the association of the follower with the Divine One (I AM). This emphasis lies in opposition to the petition of the prayer, salvation from Satan. Also notice the implication of the holy as "separate, unique." The community is holy (not of the world), just as divinity (I AM) is holy (not of this world). But, as 17:18 clearly states, the mission of the Divine One and his community is to the world, not separation from the world.

17:17 "Make them holy by your name." Here, holy means "dedication to God."

What does the word "holy" mean? What does it mean when we call God "holy?" How can Christians live holy lives? What did Jesus mean when he prayed that his followers be holy?

The word holy is tossed about in theology and religious discourse so much, it sometimes loses meaning and focus. Interestingly, the word "holy" in English shares the same root as the word "whole." The English meaning of "holy" has shades of "fullness, completion" and even resonates with "perfection."

At the root of the word, however, "holy" means "radical otherness." Holy as "the Other" leads to a dualistic world view, a notion that reality is to be divided into the "sacred" and the "profane." God and the things that belong to God lie on one side of reality; everything else lies on the other side. The world, then, can be seen in terms of good vs. evil, light vs. dark, holy vs. unholy. If God lies on the other side of reality (he is really "radically other"), then he is separate from us. He is one-of-a-kind. He is unique. As such, God evokes a sense of terrible awe, which inspires both dread and wonder. The dread wishes escape; the wonder inspires worship. God is what we are not; he is beyond our understanding.

When the Israelites referred to God as holy, they had this dual world view in mind. YHWH was "radical Other." The faith of the Hebrews was built on the notion of God as separate, unique, one-of-a-kind; his people would share that unique quality in their identity, their worship, and their lifestyle.

The Hebrews identified themselves with YHWH. Faith in this God was an act of patriotism as well as worship. The Israelites held God called them into being to be his own (Deuteronomy 7:6). YHWH called his people to be like him ("Be holy, for I, the LORD your God, am holy." Leviticus 19:2). The Hebrew knew his place in the world, based upon his allegiance and participation with the people who worshiped YHWH.

As a corollary, to be like God meant to act like God. In other words, the people were to worship and live as separate, unique, one-of-a-kind. The Law controlled both worship and lifestyle; as the root of the Law, one could find the notion of the "kosher," the Clean. Certain actions and items were deemed kosher; these led one to live honorably in the community and allowed one access to worship. Actions and items deemed not kosher could lead to rejection from worship and excommunicate from the assembly.

Much has been written in these Sunday gospel studies about the difference between the spiritualities of the Pharisees and the early Christians. To sum up, the Pharisees tried to achieve a strict adherence to the Torah; in other words, they sought to draw a distinct line between themselves and the world at large so they could highlight the notion of kosher. For the Pharisees, holiness equaled a strictly kosher lifestyle. The kosher delineated the holy from the unholy.

Christians, however, equated holiness in a relationship with Jesus. Trust in a professed Savior was the paradigm for a holy life; intimacy with the Savior was the spiritual goal. While early Christians lived highly moral lives like their Jewish counterparts, they did not want to highlight themselves as separate from the rest of society. Instead, their highly moral lifestyle was another tool in the mission to evangelize the world.

With this background, we can analyze the prayer Jesus prayed. The title "Holy Father" was a clue to the thrust of the prayer. God is "Other" yet intimate. Different, yet approachable. God is both holy and Father. Jesus did not address God as his own Father, but as Our Father. Like Jesus, the followers were to have a close relationship with the Creator.

As God's own, the followers were to be kept safe, not from the world, but from the Evil One. Yet, they were to have a mission to the world, just like Jesus. While Jesus recognized the influence of evil in the world, he shared his vision for the world with his followers. God wished all to be part of his people. He wanted the entire world to be holy. The means of the mission would be spreading the Good News. God's word sanctified his followers and that word would be at the heart of the evangelization effort. Yes, the world hated the followers for their efforts (for the followers, like their Savior, were not profane), but the spread of God's word would not stop in the face of evil.

In the Christian vision of the end times, God will transform creation itself. In other words, he will tear down the wall between the sacred and the profane; all things will be holy. While some will be judged unworthy, their sentence will be self-imposed, for they rejected the invitation to join the Holy. But others who accepted the invitation with faith will be part of that transformation. They, too, will be holy.

How has God's word made you holy? How has God dedicated you to himself? How has he helped you life a moral life? How has he helped you spread the Good News?

Until Christ reveals himself in glory, we not only wait, we prepare. We, like Jesus, pray to a God who is Holy and Father. We implore God to keep us safe from evil so we can evangelize in a world that may not welcome us with open arms. We cannot and must not fall into the temptation to close ourselves off, to build a wall between the saved and the damned, and to pelt the enemy with curses, poor wit, and sarcasm. We do not make ourselves holy; only God can do that. So, we must pray like Jesus for holiness.

Set aside a few moments this day and pray for holiness. Think of such holiness as a blessing you wish upon others; implore God that you and those you wish holiness upon may be separate (close to God), yet, approachable, like the Holy Father in heaven.