“I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours.
Reflection – Brandon Hudson
In a gospel that opens up with the idea of Jesus being sent for the whole of the world, it can be difficult to understand the portion of Jesus’ prayer that forms today’s Lenten reading. If God “so loved the world,” then why is Jesus “not asking on behalf of the world?” If we are not careful, we can miss the deeper and cohesive meaning of the work of God in Jesus and treat this verse as a justification for our own broken systems of exclusion.
Rather, the context for this prayer is in a moment of comforting the disciples and calling for their unity. Later in the prayer (vv. 20-23), Jesus will mention that these disciples, those gathered together, are being prayed for and those who would believe because of their witness. Taken out of context, this prayer becomes one that supports unhealthy theological frameworks that seek to demonize the world as outside the scope of God’s redemptive plan.
That, of course, is an easier interpretation than the one that takes the context into account. In a fuller interpretation of this prayer, we can begin to understand that Jesus is praying for those who believe (us!) so that we might bear a unified witness of love and be sent out into the world to love just as Jesus has love. The community who is empowered by these words of Jesus does not seek to go out and shame the world, but to provide a witness that shows the world the God who loved the world so much he sent Jesus.
We are given a truth that is foundational to our faith – that Jesus is the embodiment of God’s love on mission to save all. Now, as we work in our own journey to be made more like Jesus, we too are called to be that embodiment of God’s love. Jesus has prayed for us so that we can love the world. Now, what will we do about it?