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Bible Commentaries
John 17

Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy ScriptureOrchard's Catholic Commentary

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Verses 1-26

XVII 1-26 Christ’s, Sacerdotal Prayer for Unity — The sacerdotal or pontifical character of this majestic prayer of the Saviour is noted more than once by Cyr. Alex. in the course of the ten long chapters which he dedicates to its exposition. It is, of course, v 19 that sounds the specifically sacerdotal note. But the pontifical tone of the whole and the fact that the prayer is a sort of preface to the Passion justifies the title of ’sacerdotal prayer’. However, the theme of it is the unity of the Church through the glorification of the Saviour. The exordium of that great sacrificial prayer, the canon of the Roman Mass, shows some affinities, of which an emphatic supplication for unity is not the least. Christ, as we saw, had probably left the supper-room, 14:31. That he was in the open air (possibly on the flat roof of the house) is suggested but not postulated by the gesture of raising his eyes to heaven. Certainly such a gesture, carefully noted by Jn, would have had more external solemnity, if made under the stars and in the light of the Paschal moon. The prayer is patently tripartite, for Jesus first prays for himself, 1-5, secondly for his Apostles, 6-19, thirdly for the whole Church to be won by the preaching of the Apostles, 20-23. The final epilogue of petition is addressed in two parts to the Father for the reunion of all in glory with Jesus, 24, and for the Church militant as set apart from the world in union with Jesus, who is the revealer of the Father and the total object of the Father’s love, for he is the beloved Son gathering the Church through the grace of adoption into intimate unity with himself, 25

1-5 Jesus prays for Himself —The vocative address ’Father’ opens the prayer and also opens the special petition of each part, 5, 11, 21, and furthermore opens the two parts of the epilogue, 24, 25. Let it be remembered that the prayer follows on a series of words which had begun with the announcement: ’Now the Son of Man is glorified . . .’, 13:31, and ended with the encouragement: ’Have confidence, I have conquered the world’. For the third time, 6:5; 11:41, Jn contemplates Jesus lifting his eyes to heaven. ’The hour has come’ means that the Passion is about to begin. It is that Passion which will win for Jesus the glory which as man he now asks at the right hand of his Father.

2. ’Even as thou hast given him power over all flesh, in order that . . .’ The lordship of Christ over all flesh, i.e. over the whole human race, is realized by this glorification, given in view of a further glorification of the Father by the Son. The whole function of him who is ’Lord and Christ’ is to give eternal life to those who will receive it by living and abiding faith.

3. Therefore the Saviour defines in what eternal life consists. It is faith here and vision hereafter, neither of which is and knowledge but knowledge glowing with charity. The object of such knowledge is the one true God, as distinct from polytheistic idols, and of God’s Envoy Jesus Christ. This is perfect Monotheism in the Trinitarian Messianism of the Incarnation. A difficulty has been raised regarding the use of the appellation ’Jesus Christ’. Nowhere else does the Saviour call himself thus. It may be a redactional addition of the Evangelist ( Lagrange, Huby, Braun). As usual in our Lord’s words (cf. 5:24) eternal life possessed by the knowledge of faith here is in the forefront, the knowledge of vision being implicit or in the full perspective.

4 f. The ’work’, by the fulfilment of which Jesus has glorified the Father, is the Passion already regarded as consummated. It is to the Passion that the glorification of the Redeemer is constantly referred (cf.Philippians 2:9 ff.). In praying for the glory which was his with the Father, before the world was, Jesus asks that the full glory of the Word should show itself in the Word Incarnate —that he might be set in enjoyment of the glory of which he emptied himself in taking the form of a servant (Cyr.).

6-19 Jesus prays for the Apostles —Petition for the Apostles begins at 9, the preceding words being an introductory preface in which Jesus enumerates the claims which they have to the benevolence of his Father.

6 ff. Given to him out of the world as out of a mass of corruption, he has made known the Father’s name to them. This election is the first fact which entitles them to special consideration. Secondly, they belonged to the Father by the goodness of their dispositions under the guidance of his loving providence. Thirdly, he gave them to Jesus by that interior attractive force of faith which drew them to him (cf. 6:37, 39, 44, 66). Fourthly, they had surrendered mind and will to the teaching they had received from Jesus, recognizing that all he had was from the Father, accepting his words, acknowledging his divine origin, and believing in his heavenly mission.

9. Jesus who prayed for his crucifiers does not absolutely exclude the world from his prayer; he is interested in the conversion of the world, 23; but here he is specially praying for the Apostles. In any case, he could not pray for the world as the world—except for its conversion—because the unspiritual world is hostile to God (cf. 8:43; James 4:4). His prayer for the Apostles is founded on three reasons, which have reference to the present moment.

9b-11a. They belong to the Father as being his Son’s very own. Indeed, the Father and the Son have all in common—’all my things are thine and thine are mine’ (cf.Luke 15:31 for half the phrase spoken by a father to a son). Moreover, Jesus has been and is glorified in them, for they have persevered in their faith, even when others fell away, 6:68 f. Besides, at his departure, they are now about to be left alone in the world.

11b. It is here that the direct petition for them begins. It is a petition for holiness —for apostolic consecration to the service of God and of truth in the midst of a corrupt world which serves the father of lies’. Hence Jesus places the epithet ’holy’ before ’Father’. One recalls the great vision of Is 6 in which the Prophet learned the great distance between God and human corruption so vividly that he constantly calls God ’the Holy One of Israel’. ’Holy Father, keep them in thy name (that divine name) which thou hast given to me’. Which not whom is the reading of the best MSS (BSCLAW etc.). The ’name’ is the divine essence manifesting itself in its attributes of power and wisdom—these together with the divine nature having been communicated from the Father to the Son. The petition is that the Apostles should be kept united in mind and will and heart, realizing a unity modelled on the ineffable pattern in which all is one in a distinction of persons.

12-14. Up to the present, Jesus has kept them, so that none of them fell into such temptation as brought permanent rejection (cf. 18:9), except ’the son of perdition’—a Semitism of metaphorical relation denoting destiny, like ’son of gelienna’, ’son of death’. Judas was destined to perish, but by his own fault. The Scripture had foretold it, Ps 40(41):8. The treason of Judas, foreseen as the result of the traitor’s own malice, was an element in the plan of redemption. This prayer spoken by Jesus in the world is to secure for the Apostles a full participation in the serene joy which he himself had in the accomplishment of his Father’s will. The professors of heavenly doctrine will surely be hated by that world which holds to an earthly philosophy.

15. Jesus does not ask that they should be taken out of the dangerous environment— this would be the end of their apostolate—but that they be kept from contagion—’evil’ here seems to be the sum of evil influences rather than the personal evil one, although Johannine usage in his first epistle favours the latter.

16. ’They are not of the world, as I am not of the world’. To keep them from evil, however, is only the negative side of what Jesus desires for his faithful ones.

17 ff. The culmination of his prayer for them is: ’Sanctify them in the truth, thy word is truth’. What is asked is that God should consecrate them for the priestly office of preaching the truth, for what St Paul calls the ’hierurgy of the Gospel’, Romans 15:16. Their mission is the continuation of the mission of Jesus. 19. ’And for them do I sanctify myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth’. A word of the same generic signification will vary its sense according to the subject. Jesus consecrates himself. That consecration is not the hypostatic union, nor the ’unction’ of his humanity by the Holy Spirit, but the priestly consecration of himself as a victim on the cross. The sacrifice of Christ gives the Apostles a sacrificial consecration for their work in a true sense (’in truth’ without the article). It is obviously not an external consecration such as that operated by the sacrifices of the Old Law. It is a sanctification of a kind corresponding to the sacrifice that makes it, and is therefore an internal sanctification; cf.Hebrews 9:13.

20-23 Jesus prays for the Church —20. The prayer passes to the generations to come, to all believers whose faith is founded on the Apostolic teaching.

21. What Jesus asks for them is unity—a unity of souls, imitative of the Divine Trinity (and, no doubt, a social unity of bodies in which St Cyril sees the effect of the Holy Eucharist)—a unity which will be a proof to the world that God is here.

22. The glory which Jesus received and which he has given to his Church—to all faithful disciples of the Apostles—is not so much the glory of miracles and wondrous concord (Chrys.), or the glory of Christ’s humanity resplendent in the Church (Aug., Thom.), but rather the fundamental glory of divine filiation (Ambrose, cf. 1:18). Adoptive sonship includes everything else and especially that unity like to the union of the Father and Son, which is the central petition of this prayer.

23. ’I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one: and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them even as thou hast loved me’. Again we have a clear echo of the grace of the Eucharist, 6:57 f. SS Cyril and Hilary and many commentators after them were not wrong in thinking that it is through the Eucharist that this prayer of Jesus is realized. It is through the ’concorporating’ sacrament that the Church is enabled to show the world that the Father loves the Church as he loves his own Son. It is really one love, for the Church is Christ.

24-26 Epilogue —The final petition is that all this magnificence may be fulfilled in the vision of heavenly glory. The glory of the Word shining in his humanity, which we now see through the dark medium of faith, is the final reward. Let us note the strong Volo with which Jesus prays for this: ’I will that where I am, they may be with me, that they may see my glory’. This glory is the glory of the Godhead in the Word Incarnate. Such glory, communicated to the sacred humanity in accordance with a divine decree of predestination, manifests the eternal love with which the Father has loved his Son. We may also say—and it is well for us to feel and relish it interiorly—that this strong Volo of the Saviour shows magnificently how ’he loved his own who were in the world and loved them unto the end’. He wants his apostolic Church with him in the glory of heaven. The petition ends here, for the remaining verses, 25 f., opening with the title: ’Just Father’ separate the Church—as the Lady Electa (to use a Johanninc phrase)—from the deliberately blind world.

25. The recognition in deed and in truth of the mission of Jesus is what saves men ’from the perverse generation’, Acts 2:40, or world, which St Augustine calls the fearful name of massa damnata. To the word ’know’ (recognize) in 25 corresponds the word ’make known’ in 26: ’I have made known thy name to them’—to the Apostles as foundations of the Church—’and will make it known’ —after the resurrection myself, and after Pentecost by my Spirit—’that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them’—as proved by the gifts of grace —’and I in them’—by the immanence which gives them life in abundance. The profundity of these concluding words did not escape Aug.: ’How’, he asks, ’comes it that the love with which the Father loved his Son is in us also, except for the reason that we are his members, and in him we are loved when he, the whole Christ, is loved by the Father—that is, the head and the body?’ (Tract. 111).

Bibliographical Information
Orchard, Bernard, "Commentary on John 17". Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/boc/john-17.html. 1951.
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