The 7th Sunday of Easter

Working Out Our Life – A Look at John 17:6-19

by Michael K. Marsh

In today’s gospel Jesus is praying. He’s not talking to the disciples and he’s not talking to us. He’s not teaching and he’s not giving instructions. He’s praying, and we’re listening in. And what a prayer it is.

What do you hear in his prayer? I’m not just asking about what he prays for. I’m asking about what’s behind his prayer. What’s going on in him? What’s his prayer really about? 

I ask those questions because one of the things I know about prayer is that we never simply offer our words. Instead, our words are an offering of ourselves and the circumstances of our lives. There’s always more going on than the words we say. They are just the tip of the iceberg, an outward and audible sign of some inner stuff. And I think that’s true for Jesus in today’s gospel (John 17:6-19).

It’s the night of the last supper. Jesus has washed the disciples’ feet. A final meal has been shared. He’s told them he’s leaving. The end is near. Judas left the table and went out into the night. According to John, Jesus is “troubled in spirit.” He knows his friends will abandon him. “You will leave me alone,” he tells them. Peter will deny him three times. Thomas doesn’t know the way. Philip wants to see the Father. And Jesus feels the world’s hate. 

No wonder Jesus’ prayer is rambling and circuitous, confusing, repetitious, and hard to understand. I suspect that’s less about the prayer and more about what’s going on in Jesus. 

Haven’t you had times like that? Haven’t there been times when your prayer was rambling and unclear, back and forth, contradictory, moving all over the place like those little crazy ants on the kitchen counter. 

I think that happens on those nights when it seems everything is on the line and we can’t tell if things are falling into place or falling apart. They are those circumstances that call everything into question. They are times when we wonder what we’ve really accomplished. Did we make a difference? Was it worth it? What’s my life really about? They are times when we are overwhelmed by joy or devastated by loss and grief. They are those times when we’re trying to get clarity about ourselves and come to terms with our life. Who are we? What do we do now? Do we have what it takes? 

They are the transition points, thresholds moments, and circumstances when we’re trying to make sense of ourselves and our life. We’re working out our life and struggling to be authentic, faithful, and whole. 

I think that’s what we see and hear in Jesus’ prayer today. He’s not as different from us as we often think or sometimes want him to be. Today we see the human Jesus standing in solidarity with us and our humanity. Today we see the human Jesus working out his life. And who here today doesn’t know what that’s like?

So tell me this. What are you working out and struggling with today? And what is your prayer in all that? 

I can’t tell you what to do. I don’t have your answers. But maybe today’s gospel offers a way forward. What strikes me in today’s gospel is not what Jesus does, but what he doesn’t do. He doesn’t isolate or close in on himself. He doesn’t get angry or resentful. He doesn’t resist or fight back. He doesn’t run away or try to escape. He doesn’t complain about or deny the reality of what is happening. He doesn’t blame others. He doesn’t give up. And he doesn’t search for an answer to fix it all.

Instead, he faces his life. He’s doing his own inner work. He acknowledges what has happened. He names his reality. He stays in touch with his humanity. He speaks from the heart. He feels what he feels. He grieves. He weeps. He gathers with his friends. He’s concerned for others. He prays. He lives – and dies – with an openness to a future he cannot control. 

What about you and me? What if we took our cue from Jesus? What would that look like in what you are working out and struggling with today?


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