Little five-year-old Suzie tells her mother she wants a baby brother or sister. Her mother tells her if she prays every night for two months God will send her a sibling. Suzie pours herself into the project, praying feverously every night for a month. Then she begins to have her doubts. She checks with all her classmates and discovers none of them got a brother or a sister through prayer. So Suzie stops praying. A month later her mother goes into the hospital and gives birth to twins. When Suzie visits her and meets her new siblings her mother says, “Now aren’t you glad you prayed every night.” Suzie replies, “Aren’t you glad I stopped praying when I did!”
This morning’s gospel reading is a small portion of what is known as Jesus’ “High Priestly Prayer” which he offers at the conclusion of the Last Supper. What we read focuses on Jesus’ concerns for his disciples. When the prayer concludes, Jesus leads them across the Kidron Valley to the Garden of Gethsemane where Judas betrays him. One biblical scholar says the prayer is typical of John’s writings, “the wording spirals around, seemingly repeating itself.” It is like a fabric, he says, “woven with repeating words and themes.”
One theme is the world. The disciples have been chosen from the world, they are in the world, and they are hated by the world where the evil one is at work. Jesus sends his followers into the world and prays they will be protected.
A second recurring word in the prayer is given. It occurs nine times in this portion of the text. The Father gives the disciples to the Son. The Son gives his word to them and gives them his name to protect them. Two other themes are the Word and Truth. Knowing the Word and the Truth sanctifies the disciples and makes them holy.
Well, if world, given, Word, Truth, and sanctify still feel like heady ideas and the prayer seems abstract to you, don’t worry, you are not alone. Let me try to help us by approaching it from a different direction. Let’s imagine it is the prayer of a devout mother for her daughter.
“I have made your name known to this child whom you gave me.”
As parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, we know what is to attempt to pass on the faith to our children. We do our best, but often the fruit of our efforts is not seen for years.
“She was yours, and you gave her to me, and she has kept your word. Now she knows that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to her, and she has received them.”
We think of our children as gifts from God. We understand they are a sacred trust requiring and deserving our absolute best as we seek to form and prepare them.
“I am asking on her behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of this child you gave me, because she is yours. What is mine is yours, and yours is mine; and I have been glorified in her.”
When we raise a child in the faith we do not parent in isolation, but in partnership with God. All that we are and all that we have works with a Mystery from beyond to mold a unique and special human being.
“And now I am no longer in the world, but she is in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect her in your name that you have given me, so that she may be one, as we are one. While I was with her, I protected her in your name that you have given me. I guarded her.”
I have a vivid memory of taking my oldest daughter to daycare for the first time. In those early years either her mother or I was with her all the time. It was our job to watch her and care for her and protect her. Leaving the center I realized for the next eight hours neither her mother nor I would fill that role. Our daughter was now “in the world”, or at least a world without us. I recall wishing the daycare had a one-way window so I could sit undetected and watch my daughter be herself as she engaged the world. One of the toughest tasks of parenting is learning how to let go.
“I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that she may have my joy made complete in herself.”
There are many things we want to pass on to our children: an inheritance, an education, certain values. Surely one of the most important things we seek to develop in our children is a sense of joy. The writer Sharon Draper notes, “Perfect happiness is a beautiful sunset, the giggle of a grandchild, the first snowfall. It’s the little things that make happy moments, not the grand events.” “Joy,” she says, “comes in sips, not gulps.” What an incredible delight it is to watch our children delight in the small things. Any child can be over the moon at Disney World, at least until the end of the day, but what we hope to cultivate is a child who is thrilled by the wonder in her own back yard.
“I have given her your word, and the world has hated her because she does not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take her out of the world, but I ask you to protect her from the evil one. She does not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.”
The world hates her. That sounds awfully harsh, but I think it is true. Today’s standards of womanhood are cruel and exacting. Even beautiful models look at their body or their facial features and see something not to like. The measure of masculinity is becoming more and more difficult to achieve. The world grounds our identity in how we look, what we do, and what we have. The Christian faith grounds our identity in God’s love for us. Each one of us is precious and valuable beyond all measure. We are God’s children. It is this value we acknowledge and affirm through baptism. Above and beyond all else, we belong to God. It is not a message you will hear in a Madison Ave. ad campaign, but it is the truth we embrace.
“Sanctify her in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent her into the world. And for her sake I sanctify myself, so that she also may be sanctified in truth.”
As I said earlier, we do our best to pass along the faith that is within us. It is not easy because often our faith eludes the words necessary to describe it. Faith, like motherhood, is something we live better than we describe. Most of our mothers never sat us down and taught us the 10 Commandments of being a good parent. Still, we learned what to do from what our parents did well and hopefully we learned from their mistakes what not to do… just as we pray will happen for our children, grandchildren, and nephews and nieces.
So this morning we hear Jesus’s High Priestly Prayer for us and after scratching our heads at first we find in it many of the same thoughts and concerns we have for our children. We give thanks for how Jesus has raised us up to be who we are. We ask for his guidance and protection and we seek to live the life we have seen in him.