Today’s Reading: John 17:1-26
Robert McCheyne once said this: “If I could hear Christ praying for me in the next room, I would not fear a million enemies. Yet distance makes no difference. He is praying for me.”
In today’s reading, which is Jesus’ final moments with his disciples before being arrested, Jesus prays for his disciples. Knowing that he will be leaving them, praying for them is the best way to prepare them. Jesus prays for three things on our behalf: protection, sanctification, and oneness.
The early Native Indians had a unique practice of training young men. On the night of a boy’s thirteenth birthday, after learning hunting, scouting, and fishing skills, he was put to one final test. He was placed in a dense forest to spend the entire night alone. Until then, he had never been away from the security of the family and the tribe. But on this night, he was blindfolded and taken several miles away. When he took off the blindfold, he was in the middle of a thick woods and he was terrified! Every time a twig snapped, he visualized a wild animal ready to pounce. After what seemed like an eternity, dawn broke and the first rays of sunlight entered the interior of the forest. Looking around, the boy saw flowers, trees, and the outline of the path. Then, to his utter astonishment, he beheld the figure of a man standing just a few feet away, armed with a bow and arrow. It was his father. He had been there all night long.
Jesus’ first prayer for us is a prayer for protection. Of course, unlike that young boy, we have the benefit of knowing in advance that our Father is there to protect us; although just like the young boy, we don’t always see our Father guarding us. Jesus asks the Father to “protect” us. He prays, “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.” A little later he prays, “I ask you to protect them from the evil one.” Eugene Peterson translates the word “protect” as “guard,” and this is a helpful way of seeing it, especially when we think of that father watching over his son while the son was in the woods and thought he was alone.
Against what are we being protected? Jesus asks that we receive protection from the evil one, temptation, opposition, persecution, etc. He doesn’t ask that we are removed from these things. As Jesus says, “I do not ask you to take them out of the world.” But while we are in the world, he wants us to be protected and guarded. Now the word that we translate here as “protect” or “guard” is ‘tereo‘, which can also mean “to preserve.” The purpose of this request is also to ensure the unity of the faith community, which mirrors the unity of Father and Son.