Reflections on the Orthodox faith and life in this crazy 21st century world by an Orthodox priest and a few of his friends.
Saturday, November 15, 2008
That They May Be With Me (John 17:24-26)
24 “Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. 25 O righteous Father! The world has not known You, but I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me. 26 And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.”
Here the focus of Jesus’ prayer shifts back to the eleven disciples. We know this because Jesus is now speaking of “they also whom You gave Me,” which is the same phrase that he used for the disciples earlier in verse 12. Jesus loves the disciples greatly, and he cannot bear the thought of being separated from them forever. And so, he prays “that they …may be with Me where I am.”
Fr. Farley comments on the strength of the Lord’s desire that the eleven eventually be with him in heaven: “The word used for want is the Greek thelo, used not only for wanting and desiring, but also for willing. The use of the word here shows how strong Christ’s desire is to have His beloved disciples with Him as He reigns at the right hand of the Father” (295).
Note that this request of Jesus speaks against any belief in “once saved, always saved.” Certainly, any Evangelical Protestant would agree that by this point, all of the eleven disciples had believed in Jesus and received him as Lord and Savior. Some of their professions of faith are even recorded in the Gospels, including Peter’s (Matt. 16:16 and parallels) and Nathanael’s (John 1:49). Because they had “received Jesus,” then they must be saved, in Evangelical thinking, and they were assured a place in heaven after their deaths. But if this is true, then why should Jesus pray that they will be with him?
The answer is that each of the disciples had free will, and so each had the right to reject Christ, even after their initial profession of faith. Indeed, all of them did reject him after his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, but thankfully, each of them did turn back to Him. But had they not, they would not have been with him in heaven. Clearly, if they were assured a place in heaven after merely making a one-time profession of belief (no matter how true it was), then Jesus would not have needed to pray for their final salvation.
Note also in verse 24 how Jesus again affirms the love that the Father has for him. He also speaks again of his eternality, since the Father’s love for him has existed “before the foundation of the world.”
Jesus concludes the prayer (in verses 25-26) my affirming that although the world has not known God, He has, and the disciples have known and believed that Jesus was sent by the Father. Jesus had made the Father’s name (i.e. his presence) known to them so that two things may be true:
1. The love of the Father may be in them, and 2. That Jesus himself (via the Holy Spirit) might be in them.
I would like to conclude my reflections on Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer by quoting and then commenting on Fr. Farley’s reflections on the unity of the Church. The emphasis is in the original
“…this unity is not so much something the Church must create (such as, for example, through ecumenism), but something God sovereignly bestows as a gift. That is, this unity is an objective reality, an inalienable mark of the Church, a characteristic without which the Church ceases to be the Church. It exists because Christ has prayed for it. It is not a coming reality, but a present fact. To be sure, there is an ethical component to it, in that human beings in the Church must strive to preserve this unity…But the basic thought here is that this unity is an organic reality, something the Body of the Church already has within it precisely because that Body is alive. We are thus called to “keep” that reality, to preserve it, not to create it. It does not need to be created, for it is already there. Our ethical task as Christians is to abide in the unity that already exists and to avoid schism, to remain in the one and already united Body. For to leave that fellowship of love is to leave the unity of the Trinity, to abandon the Father and the Son and to return once more to the world” (296).
I would argue (as I already have!) that Jesus' followers have not done a good job of preserving the unity of the faith.
Much more could be said on the topic of unity, but I’m out of time. Next week, we will begin studying the passion of our Lord.