The authors of the Christian Scriptures believe those who imitate Jesus not only are 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.

Prayer for 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 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.

Daily, Jesus' followers 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, prayerfully to 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 that 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."

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 different responsibilities.