'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....' John 17:11

As a recent "60 Minutes" segment on Mt. Athos pointed out, Christians have an ancient tradition of monasticism - but it's not ancient enough to be traced back to Scripture.

Jesus' earliest followers presumed they'd imitate His dying and rising within the context of a community of everyday people. None of our biblical authors seems to have imagined the possibility of living one's faith in a cloistered convent or monastery.

This is the world God gave Jesus; this is also the world God gave Jesus' disciples. If it was good and painful enough for Jesus, it was also good and painful enough for them.

Luke, for instance, presumes when the Holy Spirit arrives on Pentecost that this divine force will animate a whole community of people. That's why he clicks off the names of those who will be in the upper room on that fateful morning (Acts 1:12-14).

Besides the Eleven, he mentions there also were "some women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers."

All in
Though we, at times, would like to manipulate the communities in which we live our faith, Luke's first Christian community included everyone who joined Jesus on His Passover pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

This also seems to be the case with John's Last Supper community. We often visualize Jesus sitting at a table with 12 men, but no Gospel conveys this image.

John starts the meal in chapter 13 mentioning that Jesus "poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet." Scripture students know that "disciple" refers to all followers of Jesus, male and female. (Considering John has Mary present at Golgotha the next day, we presume Jesus washed His mother's feet!) So, when Jesus talks about "those who you gave me out of this world" (John:17:1-11), we should think not just of the Twelve, but of a bunch of men and women reclining around the table.

Besides Mary, John includes "his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala." Do you think these three women ate their meal in a separate room from their husbands and male friends on the night before Jesus' crucifixion?

Special intentions
Again, we're dealing with an "ordinary" group of people, not one artificially created for "religious" purposes. Listen carefully to what John's Jesus intends for these special individuals: He passes on to them the same ministry the Father gave Him.

Where are they to carry out this ministry? "Now I will no longer be in the world, but they are in the world, while I am coming to you."

The "world," for John, is that place (or group) which most opposes Jesus and His ministry.

Perhaps that's why the author of I Peter (4:13-16) brings up suffering: "Let no one among you be made to suffer as a murderer, a thief, or an evildoer, or as an intriguer. But whoever is made to suffer as a Christian should not be ashamed but glorify God because of the name."

Part of Christian suffering springs from our communities. We have little choice in their makeup. Many times, as a child, I wished I could join our neighbor's family. I thought they understood and appreciated their children much more than my parents understood me.

Fortunately, we simply had to play the hand dealt us. Jesus presumed His followers would do the same: They weren't to run away from the world; they were to change the world.