St. Stephen's Episcopal Church
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
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Weekly Bible Study
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This is the final Bible study guide for the Spring Covenant Period. Guides will resume in the fall.
The Gospel | John 17:1-11
Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.
“I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”
Chapter 17 of John’s Gospel is the conclusion of Jesus’ “Farewell Discourse,” and in the opening verses of this chapter, we see Jesus’ focus moves from addressing the disciples to his addressing God. This portion of the “Farewell Discourse” is sometimes called the “High Priestly Prayer,” with Jesus acting as priest and intercessor, still caring for his disciples in these remaining hours before the crucifixion, but now doing so by praying for them. It is an intimate time, and we are allowed to listen in on Jesus’ prayer.
Jesus is also praying for himself. He notes that he has completed his work of “glorifying” the Father on earth, and now Jesus asks to be glorified in the Father’s presence. Jesus is ready to return to the place he occupied before the creation of the world. And since he is leaving his disciples “in the world,” Jesus asks the Father to keep them and protect them. Of course, he has already prayed for the Holy Spirit to guide and comfort them, so this petition is a continuation of Jesus’ concern for his beloved disciples.
When Jesus says he has “glorified” the Father, he is saying that he has manifested the Father’s presence, made the Father “known” in the world, and served as an “icon” or window to the Father – those who saw Jesus saw the Father.
1. “Father, the hour has come…”
In our staff Bible study, one staff member commented that, in a sense, the hour is always here. As a young mother, she noted how her daughter can say the most spiritually poignant things, as when she told her and her grandmother that she loved them, “And I will love you even when you are dead.” It seemed to this young mother that her daughter had an awareness of love being always present.
Although Jesus had clearly come to the culmination of his earthly ministry, and this “hour” had special significance, Jesus is also clear in John’s Gospel that eternal life is always available to us.
What do you make of the idea of “the eternal now,” as opposed to the eternal as something in the future?
What keeps you from living in the eternal now, and what allows you to slip into the eternal now?
Elsewhere in the Gospels, Jesus spoke about the foolishness of building barns and storing up treasure for the future. How would your life change, if lived more intentionally as if “the hour has come,” rather than expecting that “the hour” is coming later in your life?
2. “This is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”
Ponder the idea that “knowing” God is eternal life.
Although our idea of “knowing” something is generally understood to be an intellectual or rational idea, we still have an awareness of different ways of “knowing.” There is an intuitive way of knowing, and we sometimes speak of “knowing” something in our bones.
In the Hebrew language, the idea of knowing can be much more intimate, and “to know” someone is not simply to know facts about that person; rather, “to know” another can even have very intimate sexual connotations.
We are straining against the limits of our language and our usual way of thinking about these things, but how do you reflect on this idea that knowing God is eternal life? When have you had a sense of knowing God and being known by God in a way that was much deeper than mere thought or rationality?
How would you describe this way of knowing and being known?
Some have suggested that the world honors and values intellectual and empirical knowledge much more than this other way of knowing. If that is true, then where do you find support for this spiritual or religious way of knowing?
3. “I glorified you on earth….”
A famous second century Christian theologian named Irenaeus famously remarked, “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.”
Ponder what Irenaeus’ statement might say about Jesus, and about you.
Jesus made God known on earth. Jesus’ life was a sign, a testimony, or a window through which people were able to see the glory of God.
Now, as the Father sent him, he has sent you. One way of understanding this is that the world will know God through us. If the glory of God is a human being fully alive, when do you feel most alive? What is going on when you feel most fully alive? What is going on when you feel drained of life?
How would your life need to change if you are going to “glorify” God more fully?
4. What struck another staff member most about this passage was Jesus’ vision of unity and how that vision of unity stands in such stark contrast to our present divisions in politics, religion, and even in family life. It seems important for many of us to be right about important issues of the day, and this sometimes leads us to feel it is important to point out how others are wrong.
How does Jesus’ vision of unity address our present divisions, our need to be right, and our occasional demonization of those who differ from us?
How would your life change if you lived more completely into Jesus’ vision of unity?
5. “Holy Father, protect them in your name…”
It is touching to see how Jesus prays for the protection of the disciples after he is gone. Any parent will surely recognize his or her own prayer for the protection of their children.
However, all but one of the apostles died a violent, martyr’s death. Does this mean that God did not answer Jesus’ prayer? Or, is Jesus praying for a different kind of protection, a protection that keeps the disciples regardless of the way in which they die?
Although many of us are accustomed to praying for our children’s physical safety, is there a deeper and even more important kind of protection for which we should be praying?
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