This week’s readings describe huge transitions on both sides of the crucifixion. Jesus’ prayer marks the completion of his discipling of those closest to him and their graduation from disciples to leaders. The Acts passage depicts the promotion of one of his many followers to a full member of the high council of the Jesus movement. In both cases, the passages draw heavily on prior relationships to point out what life will be like going forward.
Jesus’ long prayers at the close of the Gospel of John are some of the richest in the biblical text for exploring his relationship with God and our relationship with our messiah. Jesus is the perfect conduit for this prayer. All that is the Father’s is his and vice versa (John 17:8, 10), including both words and followers. Then he prays that God would protect the disciples by the power of God’s name, which was given to Jesus, so that they would be one as Jesus and God are one (John 17:11). There is so much going on in that one sentence!
The first thing to note is that God’s name is useful for protection. God’s name (the Tetragrammaton) isn’t some magical word, though it is so holy that I do not write or say it. Like many Hebrew names, it’s a full sentence. God proclaims that “I will be that which I will be.” That promise was made during the redemptive moment in Israelite history, during the exodus from Egypt, and the creation of the community of God’s people. It is God’s promise to be what is needed. Even if God’s essence is unknowable, the name points to God’s continual salvific identity. “I will be .…”
Jesus’ long prayers at the close of the Gospel of John are some of the richest in the biblical text for exploring his relationship with God and our relationship with our messiah.
In what sense then did God give Jesus this name? The English name “Jesus” isn’t the most useful for clarifying this. His Hebrew name, Yehoshua means “The Lord (the first half of the Tetragrammaton) Saves.” In a very real way, since the announcement of his name by the angel Gabriel before his birth, Jesus’ identity among humans has been “God saves.” This name then becomes the rallying cry and raison d’etre for the Jesus community. God has always been saving! And God continued doing just as God has always done, only more so, through the human named “God saves.”
Then Jesus uttered the most perplexing and important part of this prayer—that we would be one just as Jesus and God are one. In some way that my brain cannot process, Jesus-as-Word was with God and was God. In the same way, Jesus prays that we will be one just as he is one with God. I know that I’m not part of a trinity or of a unified consciousness of believers. Even if/when Jesus’ request is answered, I don’t believe that we humans will be part of a singular-plural that most Christians understand God to be. But somehow, Jesus prays for his disciples to embody the exact same unity that Jesus experiences with God! This is Jesus’ prayer for his disciples as they graduate from disciples to leaders—that they know the unity that Jesus experiences with God.
In the night before he was to be killed, Jesus spent time asking God that his disciples, and then the world, experience the kind of unity that Jesus experiences with God (John 17:11, 20-21). How can we actively seek to fulfill his prayer request that we be mystically unified with other believers to the exact level that Jesus experienced unity with God? How can you and I practice holy, godly unity with our siblings in Christ, especially in times of conflict and strife?
The story of Matthias depicts another example of the “just as” continuation of relationships. Matthias had been with the group of believers from the beginning—from Jesus’ baptism by John through everything (Acts 1:21-22). Just as the disciples, the women followers/funders, and Jesus’ mother and brothers were longtime parts of the community, so there were at least a hundred others (Acts 1:15). And just as Jesus personally selected the 12 students that he focused on, so did God select the disciple to replace Judas Iscariot (Acts 1:24-26). God called Matthias to graduate into the rank of the 12 and did so based on his ongoing relationship and unity with those who followed Jesus.
Prior relationships served as an important pattern for how the Jesus community moved forward around the Messiah’s crucifixion. Jesus based his hope for his disciples and the world on his relationship with God. The disciples based their criterion for selecting a new disciple on those whom Jesus had employed in picking them: namely, Matthias had dropped what he was doing and followed Jesus from the beginning until after the Lord’s death and resurrection.
In this time when we celebrate the accomplishments of many graduates, the graduations of those who followed Jesus celebrated mystic unity with God and each other, and faithfulness in following Jesus to all the places he calls his disciples.