1 Peter 4:13-16
|May 20-21, 2023, Seventh Sunday of Easter, Cycle A|
Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ.
One of the commentators that I read this week said that in most cases the readings of the day need to be broken open for the assembly during the homily but that today's Gospel passage needs to be contemplated. He explains that this prayer of Jesus that is part of his Last Supper discourse in John's gospel, reveals in great depth the relationship between Jesus, the Father ,and Jesus' disciples, including us gathered here. While I agree with that this prayer, along with the 3 preceding chapters, does warrant our contemplation, I suggest that there are two things in today's passage that bear breaking open, or explaining.
The first is the concept of "eternal life". I suggest that what Jesus means by eternal life throughout John's Gospel is not exactly what most of us think it means.
A man was walking along an empty beach and he tripped over something in the sand. It was a antique lamp. He picked it up and as he wiped off the sand with his sleeve, a genie appeared out of it and tells him he has been granted one wish. The man thinks for a moment and says, "I want to live forever."
"Sorry," said the genie, "I'm not allowed to grant eternal life."
"OK, then, I want to die after Congress passes gun safety legislation and eliminates the national debt.
"You crafty little devil," said the genie.
John's Gospel uses the term, and concept, of eternal life much more extensively and more distinctively than the 3 synoptic Gospels. Perhaps the most famous use is John 3:16:
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.
Consistently throughout this Gospel, eternal life is not something that only happens in the future, nor is it synonymous with living forever, as the joke I just told makes it. One way I have found helpful to grasp what it means to Jesus is to think of it as life that the one who is eternal has. In other words, eternal life is participation in the life of God who is the eternal one. And it is something that Jesus came to proclaim as something we can start to experience here and now. It is something that we start to experience when we start to know God, and the one God sent, Jesus Christ, and as Jesus promised, the one Jesus sent, the Holy Spirit.
Jesus prays that his disciples, who have started to experience this eternal life because they have accepted what Jesus has revealed about the Father to them, will continue the work the Father gave him to do after Jesus has ascended back to the father. He prays that the Father will continue to hold them as his own, and be glorified by their work.
The second thing that bears explaining, at least it did to me, is the part where Jesus says, I do not pray for the world but for the ones you have given me. Throughout the last supper discourses, "the world" is used symbolically for "the disbelief and hatred" which Jesus' revelation encounters. It is not Jesus condemning or rejecting those who do not believe or who hate him but rather a sharper focus on those who have believed and have started to taste eternal life. It is an intensification of Jesus' prayer for those who are staying in the world to be able to continue Jesus' work of revealing the Father to the world. For those who will continue to reveal God to those who do not yet believe, and who therefore do not yet have eternal life.
So let us contemplate this prayer Jesus prays, and nourished by his body and blood, enter into it with all our being, making it our prayer as well:
Father, the hour has come. Give glory to your son, so that your son might glorify you, and so that your son may give eternal life to us, and to all you gave him.