Reflection for Sunday – May 8, 2016
Readings: Acts 7: 55-60; Revelation 22: 12-14, 16-17,20; John 17: 20-26
Preacher: Marlene Bessette
If we look at the context of this gospel reading, Jesus has just shared a meal with his disciples in loving friendship, washed their feet as servant leader, given them a new commandment to love as he loves, and told them of his leaving. Then in the very short time between these events and his arrest and passion he prays for himself, for his current disciples, and for those who will believe in him through their word. In today’s gospel, we hear this final portion of his prayer for future believers. Jesus is praying for us.
I can only imagine how important this prayer must be as Jesus chooses how to use his final moments with his disciples. His words are addressed directly to the Father but he has not separated himself from his disciples, they can hear his intercession. As I prayed over this gospel, I imagined myself in this scene. I sit off in a corner of the upper room watching Jesus’ face in the candlelight and I hear his intimate conversation with his Father. Jesus asks not once, but three times, that we would all become one as he and the Father are one. This prayer for oneness settles deep within my heart…one in unity, one in purpose, one in love. There is a great peacefulness that washes over me and settles deep within my heart as I hear the invitation into the love bond between Father, Son and Spirit.
But it is much more than an invitation to respond to God’s love, which is always present. It is a request that God grant us the grace for oneness in this love; oneness with God, oneness with each other. Being one implies no separation. There is no separation between Jesus’ thoughts and God’s thoughts, no separation between what Jesus does and what God wants him to do. Jesus is asking God to grant us the grace that we all become one within this awareness and action. In fact, he is asking that we be brought to perfection as one.
Being brought to perfection is being brought to who we are meant to be within the one Body of Christ. We are not being called to conformity, but to the fullest expression of our unique abilities and gifts in the service of the one body.
Unfortunately, this call to oneness is frequently blocked by the pervasive individualism of our culture. I realize this as I look back on my life and see how I strived for perfection as self, not as part of the one. Like so many others, I faithfully climbed the corporate ladder and did what was required to perfect myself. I was successful by all standards of individual performance. The perfection I was striving for was in the context of my career and family; always working toward being the best.
It was individualistic and although I always strived to be generous with time and treasure, my actions were primarily in support of advancing and protecting my personal world. In many ways, this approach was applied to my faith life—I just have to worry about myself and being as “perfect” as I can be so that I can get into heaven. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do?
As usual, Jesus has other ideas. He is asking God that we be brought to an awareness of where we fit in God’s bigger plan. Jesus’ prayer is an invitation to participate in God’s divine vision. It requires that we choose to give ourselves to God’s work. I came to the awareness of what this meant for me through the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises: a prayerful journey to closer intimacy with God. For me, this resulted in a significant career change into the non-profit world and an agency whose mission is to serve the poor and most vulnerable in our community. This does not mean that everyone should do the same, but it does mean that we are called to focus on the graces and blessings God gives us for consciously creating a positive difference in the world.
Prayer can help us identify how we might be brought to perfection as one. We are frequently surprised at the answer when we ask: What can I do for Christ? How am I developing my own talents, skills, wisdom and consciousness in a way that builds up the Body of Christ? How am I being brought to perfection as one?