In the Gospel Jesus prays for his disciples. This prayer reveals not only his selfless for the disciples but also what he esteems to be important for them who will remain in the world. But why then does he speak of the disciples as not being of the world? What does it mean for us today?
Bible readings Acts 1: 15-17, 20-26 Psalm 103: 1-2, 11-12, 19-20 1 John 4: 11-16 John 17: 11-19
“They are not of the world”; I fear!
It may shock a little to see the manner in which the Gospel according to John speaks of the world. Jesus says of his disciples as, “They are not of the world”. You just can’t help but exclaim –really? Do these men, most of them simple fishermen and peasants, do they think of themselves belonging to another world other than Palestine where they are born and have been brought up? Besides, is it not in the same world Jesus sends them to continue the mission? I fear the possible abuse of this text.
Some people may to develop a negative attitude towards the world, and shun it, in the name of being Christian. Consequently, you risk a situation of Christians who consider themselves apart and their only concern is to shield themselves against the world deemed to be defiled. Besides the negative attitude, some people may remain passive vis-à-vis the affairs of the world; the only thing that matters is the world to come. And so, you have devoted Christians but walled in a ghetto. Is the world really that bad? Is that what Jesus is saying?
Anyway, God created the world, and he found it to be good. For the same world, and going to great lengths, he sent his incarnate son in order to save it. And Jesus himself sends his disciples to carry out his mission in the world. Isn’t that a sign that despite the disturbing events going on, the world is fundamentally good? And our mission is to preserve, and allow blossom, that good. It’s important to understand, which world is Jesus referring to?
The “world” in the language of John
John speaks of the world not in terms of our ordinary, contemporary conception; it’s not either the distinction between what’s religious and what’s secular. The world encompasses persons, powers, attitudes and behaviours that are opposed to the Gospel announced by Jesus. So, it can’t be understood as distrust of earthily world. In fact, Jesus does ask for his disciples to be taken out of the world: “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.” I dare even to say that the world that John speaks about, perhaps, is not just something out there but also something in us, even as Christians, that is resistant to the message of life. It could be the tendency to violence, oppression, or to lording over others. A disciple of Jesus does not belong to such type of world.
Let’s move on to the content of the prayer, which is equally amazing.
Before long Jesus will be arrested and be condemned to death. Yet, what occupies him at this time is not his imminent passion but his disciples. How will they live in his absence? Will they remain united? And will they resist the forces opposed to the Gospel? It’s like parents concerned about the future of the family; will the children remain united? Such selflessness of Jesus is something surely to emulate.
Indeed, we may have our own pains and issues that preoccupy our minds; in the midst of all such concerns, can we find the strength to be charitable towards others? For example, in our prayers, how often do we go beyond our own needs to think of others?
Prayer for unity
In chapter 17 of the Gospel according to John, Jesus prays for his disciples. Unity is one of the intentions of this prayer: “so that may be one”. The question of unity often evokes the division that exists in the church among Christian denominations; however, we shouldn’t give a blind eye to the divisions that are local, which may exist even in a parish or in a group. We can go even further. Division may exist also in our personal lives. The question is: do I give an undivided life to the Gospel? In us may exist the “world” resistant and opposed to the Gospel, thus, creating a fissure in our life.
It’s through unity within us, among us as Christians, and with Jesus that we can remain faithful to the Gospel in the world of today.
Faithfulness as keeping unity in the changing world
As he leaves, Jesus implores the father to protect the disciples against whatever influence that may robe them of the message of life that they have welcomed. He’s aware that the opposition that he faced may go on to dissuade them from keeping to his teaching. Holding onto the Gospel values in a fast changing world is challenge for us today.
How do I keep the unity between my life style and the faith I profess? A sure way to do it is to remain rooted in Jesu!
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