Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year A
John 17:1-11 - link to NRSV text
The phrase that comes to my mind when I think about this Sunday's gospel is "free flow."
That phrase seems to characterize the relationship described between Jesus and God the Father. The glory for which Jesus prays is the glory he had before the world was made, the glory he has in the Father's presence. Whose glory is it: God's or Jesus'? The question is pretty silly. As the Father's son, any glory that Jesus receives both reflects and returns to the Father, elevating the family name. Any glory that belongs to the Father belongs to the Son and heir as well. The same goes for power, and everything else: "All mine are yours, and all yours are mine" (John 17:10), Jesus says. So all gifts, all glory, all power flow freely between Jesus and God, neither holding back from fear or grasping from greed, each rejoicing in all honor, glory, and power the other receives. Jesus and the Father are one.
And Jesus' prayer for us is that we would be one in that same way.
I just got back from a retreat with the high school youth group with the theme "Under Pressure," and in preparing for and going through that retreat, I've spent a number of weeks thinking and praying a lot about the vision Jesus sets forth in Luke 12:22-34:
He said to his disciples, ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.
‘Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
What's holding us back from living into Jesus' exhortation not to be afraid, not to worry about our lives? And what would need to happen for us to experience that consistently and fully? I think that both Luke and John give us some hints, and considering how much they differ in other ways, their prescription for freedom from anxiety is remarkably similar, and if I had to sum it up in a word, I'd say the word is 'unity.'
Take a look at the way that Jesus describes his relationship with God in John 17, that free flow of every good thing between them. What if we answered Jesus' prayer, if we related to one another as he and God relate to one another? It might look a little like Acts 4:32-37. Acts 4 describes a community with that kind of unity, that free flow of gifts.
I read that and I think about the things that I get anxious about. For me, the big anxiety at the moment is about how I can live into my vocation and still pay the bills. But the community described in Acts 4, the community for which Jesus prayed in John 17, would have no anxieties like that, because the whole community's resources were there for anyone in need -- and so there was no one in need. That clearly wasn't the limit, though. We're talking about a community in which every good thing is offered freely. Those with power use it to empower those with less. Those who have respect and trust extend it to those counted as worthless, giving them a place in the community in which they can know what it's like to be valued, and can give that experience to others.
Think of the spiritual power of such a community. Small wonder that Acts 4:33-34 says that "with great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all." It's a shame that most English translations don't include the conjunction (the Greek word gar) that starts the next clause: "FOR there was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned houses or lands sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold." The great grace and power they experienced proceeded from the grace that those in power showed in giving up their advantage to the advantage of all.
Think of the freedom from anxiety in such a community. Not only does no one worry about paying the bills; no one worries about who is getting more recognition, or power, or status. That's freedom, real freedom from the constant vigilance exercised by those who are in the rat race, and in it to win. That kind of freedom is glorious -- glorious like the free flow of glory and honor between the Word and the Creator from before the world was made. And each time we break bread and share it, seeking others' advantage, healing, and honor above our own, we get a glimpse of othat glory. We are the Church, the Body of Christ engaged in Christ's work of reconciling all people with one another and with God in Christ, and there's nothing more glorious to see than the Church being the Church Jesus prayed for.
Thanks be to God!
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Posted by: Gotham Image | May 4, 2005 7:36:21 AM
I think you make an appropriate and helpful connection between Jn 17:10, Lk 22-34, and Ac 4:32-37. I however doubt that the Church at Jerusalem was as happy or as faith-filled as Luke portrays it. Luke idealizes this faith community in his brief citation, and then moves on. If the early church at various locations (as described by Paul) faced great internal difficulties, Jerusalem must must have also (the broken ness, sinfulness, and foolishness of humanity being consistent.) All ideal communities (like the mythic Camelot) are like bubbles; if they exist at all they quickly pass like dreams. As faith leaders we should lift up the vision of communal Jerusalem as a possibility, but I am not sure we can ever fully live it out on earth. Peace!
Posted by: mike | May 6, 2005 9:30:45 AM
You might be interested in this article:
S. Scott Bartchy, "Community of Goods in Acts: Idealization or Social Reality?" in The Future of Early Christianity: Essays in Honor of Helmut Koester, ed. Birger Pearson, Fortress Press, 1992, pp. 309-18.
It's good stuff, and it addresses precisely the issue you raise.
Posted by: Sarah Dylan Breuer | May 6, 2005 11:24:53 AM
Thanks -- I'll check your citation. Have a great weekend. M.P.
Posted by: mike | May 7, 2005 7:57:07 PM