Ascension Sunday, Year A | John 17:1-11a
The first verse of this gospel, “he raised his eyes to heaven and said…,” (v.1) makes me think of conversations with my children when they were young. We’d be walking along, and one of them would stop, grab my hand, stare earnestly into my eyes, and proceed to start talking. Looking back, I see real relationship: they had something valuable to say, made sure they had my full attention, and had the confidence to say it. They trusted they would be heard.
That’s exactly what Jesus did in this prayer. He stopped, looked directly to His Father, and spoke. He had something to say, and He trusted He would be heard. Now that’s relationship.
Most often, I toss my prayers heaven-ward, almost as if I hope God will decide to try to catch them. I often pray this is how I would like it, but Your will be done to demonstrate that I understand I am not in control. I wonder, though, if that isn’t a cop-out, whether I really trust that I will be heard. Is that real relationship?
Free-will means we actually have some control. Not of global events or even of the people closest to us. But we have control of ourselves. Jesus followed God to the cross not because He had to but because He chose to. He wanted His life to have a greater meaning. So, He found His life’s purpose and stuck it out to the end. I love that Jesus wasn’t afraid to remind God of that: “I accomplish[ed] the work you gave me to do” (v.6). Jesus wanted some accolades for sticking it out with the twelve who could sometimes be as thick as planks. He really was human!
But He was also grateful that He had the twelve. He knows they will provide for continuity after His death: “I will no longer be…but they are…” (v.11). And isn’t that what we all want? For our lives to mean something beyond ourselves?
Work from a place of passion, real relationships, and a link with the future, those elements give life true meaning. Not fame, not fortune, not earthly pleasures. In this passage, Jesus points to the presence of all of these in His work with the disciples, in His relationship with the Father, and in the seeds of the church He is leaving behind.
The more I reread this prayer, the more I see of Jesus’s humanity. He is at the precipice. In a few hours, He will make a choice: either see it through or back away. The very human choice to back away would give him more time and possibly more credibility with those He loves. But there is another way, one that is not the obvious, one that’s definitely not the way of the world.
And so He prays this prayer. God, Your will, not Mine. It’s not a cop-out. It encapsulates the tension between His humanity and His divinity at a moment of extreme vulnerability, at the edge of the precipice. Through real relationship with the Father, it’s not a cop-out for us either. In that moment, we grab His hand, stare earnestly into His eyes, and speak. And He listens.