Someone overheard Martin Luther praying and was struck by the intensity and intimacy of his words. Youve probably overheard a childs prayer, and were in some way touched. Jesus, in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector shows the depths of those two mens hearts by means of overheard prayer. Our text is overheard prayer. Jesus is praying on Maundy Thursday. The prayer is 26 verses long. We are overhearing just the last 7. The words of Jesus prayer echo in our hearts like sonar thereby revealing the true shape of our prayers.
This part of Jesus prayer is specifically for us. Jesus prays, My prayer is not just for them [the apostles] alone. I pray also for those who will believe in Me through the their message. So on the night Jesus was betrayed, after having left us the last will and testament of His Body and Blood, and before suffering for our sins, Jesus is thinking of us who would come to the faith through the word of the apostles.
The first thing Jesus prays for is unity. That all of them may be one. Almost as disturbing to a parent as a good child suddenly gone bad is when children cant get along. All they do is fight, the parent moans. But Jesus doesnt pray for a Rodney King sort of unity, i.e. cant everybody just get along? Let everyone believe and teach whatever they want without anyone saying anyone else is wrong. No, Jesus prays that they may be one as We are one. Is there disagreement between what the Father teaches and what the Son teaches? Is the Word the Son speaks different from the Fathers? Does the Father believe and teach one thing and the Son another?
Unity is a great thing to pray for, but Jesus prays for something even greater. May they also be in Us. Jesus doesnt pray that we may walk with Him and talk with Him. He doesnt pray that we would have a closer walk with God like Adam in the Garden. No, Jesus prays that we be in the Godhead. What mysteries, what wonders, what joys are there?
Another petition is related to this one. Jesus says not only does He want those the Father has given Him to be in the Father with Him, He wants us to see His glory. Where should we go with this one? To the Transfiguration? To the Hallelujah Chorus welcoming the Man Jesus into heaven? To Revelation 1 where the glorified Jesus is so stunning that John fell down as a dead man when he saw Him?
The last thing Jesus asks the Father is that the love You have for Me may be in them. Jesus had described this love earlier as eternal saying, You loved Me before the creation of the world. Older then the stars, surer than the sun coming up is the love between the Father and the Son. Before their was matter, energy, space, time there was love. Freud, teen dramas, and pop music that reduce everything to sex, erotic love, and romance are close to being right. Love is behind it all, but its the eternal love in the Godhead between Father and Son not the temporal love between people. Jesus asks that this eternal love beyond space, time, words, and feeling might be in us.
Weve overhead Jesus praying and those words sound in my ears and echo in my heart revealing much about my prayer life. I find that I dont pray for unity; I pray to be right. I dont mean I pray for right doctrine, right teaching, right believing. No, I pray that I be right. I want to win the argument; I want to beat the other person.
And I dont pray to be in the Father and the Son. No, I pray to be in health, in happiness, in success, in power, in the money. Of course, I dont use those words. I mask them; I hide them. I say one thing but hope for and mean another. But as I said my petitions are revealed for what they really are when the holy petitions of Jesus sound against them. Like a hand knocking on a wall doesnt fail to reveal a hollow spot, so Jesus prayer reveals mine.
When I was 18, I prayed every single night for 9 or more months. Im ashamed to say that Im not even sure I prayed for forgiveness each night I vaguely remember that I did. What I know I prayed was, Lord make me an Airborne Ranger. I didnt pray for, long for, or even remotely desire to see the glory of the Son. Seeing mine was more than enough. As a country band sang, My dreams were big but my thoughts were small. But unlike that song it isnt a case that now Ive turned it all around. No, the hallow place in my heart 35 years later still echoes with the desire to see my glory not Jesus.
My prayers about love are no better. I want to be loved as I want. The thought of a love that transcends space and time and is the very secret of the Godhead doesnt really move me. There have been and are pagan poets, science fiction writers and philosophers who have desired the eternal love of God much more than I have.
Face it; I dont know how to pray as I ought and Jesus prayer reveals this. But Im in good company. St. Paul includes himself when he says, We do not know how to pray as we should. But Jesus does, and though the insert, as it always does, puts Jesus words in the past by adding Jesus prayed, Jesus really prays this prayer right now. Hebrews 7 tells us Jesus ascended into heaven where He is always interceding for us. Rather than speculate about what Jesus might be praying for you, go by the words Jesus actually says. And know that when youre overhearing a prayer of Jesus, youre overhearing an answered prayer.
Nowhere in this prayer does Jesus say to His Father, If Thy will it, or according to Thy will, or Thy will be done. In fact, Jesus specifically says, I will, not I want as the insert translates. I will that where I am these might be. And in the rest of the petitions, where the insert translates may, it could be translated should. Jesus prays that all of us should be one, that we should be in the Father and the Son, that we should see the Sons glory, and that the Fathers love for the Son should be in us. The Greek form (subjunctive) means from the speakers point of view its a done deal.
The reason Jesus can ask the Father so certainly in this prayer is because of prayers Jesus will later pray. Just a few minutes from now Jesus will be in Gethsemane bearing the sins that shame you, the death that haunts you, and the Devil that frightens you. This great weight will press His face into the dirt, groans from His heart and blood out of His pores. He will see Gods wrath coming toward Him in the form of a boiling hot, noxious cup for Him to drink so you dont have to, and Jesus is going to say to His Father, Your will be none not My will.
So Jesus will take that cup and that cup will lead Him to a cross where He will be nailed for all my sins, all your sins, the sins of the whole world. Heavily, savagely, painfully the hammer will drive those nails through His innocent flesh into the wood for the many sins you cant remember and those you can never seem to forget.
Right after this, Jesus prays again saying, Father forgive them. Note Jesus doesnt say, Father forgive them because they are sorry. Or, Father forgive them because theyll make up for their sins. Or, Father forgive them because they did their best. No, the suffering, dying, damned Jesus makes light of our sins saying, Father forgive them for they know not what they do. What?! I dont know about you, but most of the time I know exactly what Im doing when I sin. Im Adam not Eve. Im not deceived at all. Yet Jesus says, Forgive him. And the Father does. Would even sinful, fallen you reject the dying request of your child?
Jesus isnt done praying yet. After He says He has finished paying for our sins, Jesus prays, Father into Thy hands I commend My Spirit. Jesus goes to Paradise that day because the sins, your sins, that hung all over Him in blood, sweat, and tears have been paid for. Paid for sins cant keep anyone, not even you out of heaven.
You can see that Jesus prayers that the Father will be done, sinners be forgiven, and He go to heaven were answered. What about the prayers in our text? The Son won the right to have every petition on our behalf answered. And He gives us the answer in tangible things. Jesus gives us Baptism. He says, Baptize all nations into the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. The Godhead is One; all Christians are united in Baptism because they are all brought into the same place. So not only is Jesus prayer for unity answered but His prayer that we be in the Father and the Son is too in Baptism.
What about His prayer that we see the glory of the Son? Jesus has left us Absolution which separates a man or woman from his or her sins as far as east is from west. The forgiveness in Absolution shows us the glory of illness, failure, sadness, even death. Absolution takes away the Law that accuses you, makes you guilty and feel ashamed. So what is inglorious to the world looks glorious to the forgiven sinner. By sending your sins away from you, Absolution also takes away any of Gods wrath, condemnation, or judgment in disease, disaster, or death.
This is the case with the crucified Jesus, isnt it? You wouldnt wear a crucifix around your neck, you wouldnt have it hanging in your home, we wouldnt have it on our altar unless the forgiveness of sins had transformed it into something glorious. If we can glory in the cross where God the Son was brutally ridiculed, tortured, and damned, what cant a forgiven Christian see the glory of the Son in?
What about this love that is beyond space and time and before even the cosmos was created? This is the love that the teen, the unhappy couple, or the lonely person really ache for. And it is yours in the Body and Blood of Jesus. Bodied and Bloodied to Jesus in the Sacrament of the Altar you are as loved by Father as the Son is. The Father makes no distinction between you. He doesnt see what you use to be He sees Jesus, and the Father has always loved His Son.
Garth Brooks had the song Unanswered Prayer. As comforting as an unanswered prayer might be looking back, this overheard prayer of Jesus is even more comforting looking forward. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Seventh Sunday of Easter (20100516); John 17: 20-26