"I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. . . . As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world." (Jn 17:15; 18).
I have read today’s gospel over several times; it’s really a beautiful, compelling passage. This reading tells of Jesus’ prayer to the Father shortly before his Passion and death. What continues to resonate with me is how tenderly our Lord prays for the followers he will soon leave behind on earth. All day, the words have played over and over in my head. Protect them, he asks. Set them apart from the world, he asks. Make their joy complete, he asks. Sanctify them, he asks. Hours before Jesus is called to make the greatest sacrifice, his prayer is not for mercy on his own life. Instead, he pleads for all Christians, past and present, "that they may be one." So the question I can’t help asking myself is-so, how have we done so far?
Jesus knew what he was going to. Though he was walking to his death, eternal happiness and union with the Father would follow. What he also knew was that evil would never give those remaining on earth a moment’s rest. With what must have been a great deal of sadness, Jesus says, "I am no longer in the world, but these followers of mine are." Hate, greed, envy, pride, fear, bigotry, jealousy. These are the temptations that awaited Christians. These are the powerful evils that threatened to divide Christ’s followers, to separate us from each other.
In case we had any doubts about the difficulty of leading a true Christian life, of proclaiming the gospel to those who have not heard it, our Lord is blunt: "I have given them your word, and the world has hated them." This isn’t easy to hear. The world hates us. But just when you might want to throw in the towel-I mean, how can we fight the whole world?!? Just when you might think it’s too hard to follow Christ, take note of the other part of that statement-I have given them your word.
Not only have we been given this great gift, this gift of the truth, of salvation, of the word. But, we have been given this gift by Christ himself. Our Lord has put us in the world then to proclaim this truth. He has set us apart from the world, but has kept us in the world for this reason. Of course, that doesn’t mean we are all traveling around the world bringing those who don’t know of God’s word into his Church. But, it does mean living a life that is true to that word.
So, let’s go back to Christ’s plea to the Father that we be "one." Certainly, it sounds like we have enough problems with evil and the world conspiring together against our Lord’s message. Have we at least remained unified in the mission? I think, sadly, we all know the answer to that question. So, I challenge myself and all of you to answer Jesus’ prayer. Despite our differences, can we find our common ground? Can we surrender our own need to be right in order to come together on that which we all agree? Have we allowed all those evils of the world to drive a wedge between us and thereby achieve the goal of weakening us? I mean, isn’t our most unifying factor the greatest and most powerful unifying factor there can be? One word, Jesus.
Marlo Serritella, [email protected] is on staff at the Holy Cross Province Development Office in Chicago.