The authors of the Christian Scriptures believe
those who imitate Jesus are not only unique individuals, but also should be
conscious of what makes them different from others.
Rarely is this concept conveyed more forcibly
than in Sunday's Gospel (Jn 17: 1-11). The night before Jesus dies, He
prays for those whom God has "given" Him. They're a special lot.
They have both kept God's word and committed themselves to deliver to
others the message God gave Jesus to deliver to them.
No wonder John's Jesus tells those gathered
with Him for His Last Supper, "I pray for them - not for the world
but for these you have given me, for they are really yours....If it is in
them that I have been glorified, I am in the world no more, but these are in
the world as I come to you."
In, not of
In John's theology, it's a gift of the
Spirit to be "in" the world but not "part of" the world,
to be surrounded by people who either refuse to share in or know nothing
about the faith of Jesus. John believes such individuals will never
experience the same kind of eternal life that God bestows on those who carry
on Jesus' ministry.
It's important to note that God gave us to
Jesus "out of the world." Though we're not a part of the world,
neither are we expected to leave the world. There's no concept in the
Christian Scriptures of formal religious life as we know it - no
cloistered convents or monasteries.
Jesus' followers daily are expected to
experience something they're not a part of. It's a strange position to
be in, but Jesus assures us that we're not here by accident. He actually
tells His supper companions why they're so chosen: "They belonged to
you [God], and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word."
Though Scripture scholars don't agree on
whether John read Acts before he composed his own Gospel, his emphasis on
"the word" dovetails with Luke's belief about what makes a good
disciple (Acts 1: 12-14).
Most of us perk up when we hear the list of
those who go into the Jerusalem upper room to prayerfully await the Spirit's
Pentecost arrival. These are the chosen followers of Jesus who will be
present for the birth of the Church. The names of the eleven are familiar.
But Luke adds a few extra people: "some women and Mary, the mother of
Jesus, and His brothers."
Though Luke mentions nothing about Jesus'
mother being present on Golgotha, he makes a point of her being in the upper
room for Pentecost. It's easy to see why. Throughout Luke's first
volume, he depicts Mary as the perfect disciple, the ideal Christian. He
accomplishes this by habitually referring to her as someone who "hears
God's word and carries it out." That's the one action which Luke's
Jesus demands of His followers.
Reacting to God
Ironically, as we've just heard, John's
Jesus expects the same from those who are in the world but not part of the
world. There's something essential in early Christianity about making God's
word the center of our lives and the basis for our actions.
No matter the writer, God's word and our
reaction to it constantly come up. Even the author of the second reading
implicitly tells his community to hear God's word in the midst of the
sufferings that permeate their everyday lives (I Peter 4: 13-16).
"Insults for the name of Christ" are to be expected.
"But," the author continues, "let no one among you be made to
suffer as a thief, an evildoer or an intriguer."
Like Jesus, imitators of Jesus encounter their
"hour." Such an experience is an integral part of faith. Yet, as
painful as that hour is, our sacred authors are convinced it's the only
way we can participate in the risen Jesus' glory. And we do so right
smack-dab in the middle of this world.
No wonder we're so different from people
around us. We hear and carry out a word that almost no one else even
notices. It doesn't make us better than those others; it simply gives us