Brief Synopsis of the Readings: In the Acts of the Apostles Peter addressed about 120 of Jesus’ disciples. The original Twelve were down to eleven with the betrayal of Judas and they needed to replace him. Of those gathered, two were nominated: Joseph and Matthias. They drew lots and Matthias was chosen. John’s Gospel shows Jesus in prayer. He raised his eyes to heaven and prayed that God continue to protect those gathered “so that they may be one like us.” Jesus went on to say that he was tasked with watching over them and the only one he lost was “the one who chose to be lost.” Jesus then told God that he was speaking these words “while still in the world” to share his joy. Jesus’ followers were given the word and the world hated them for it; they, like Jesus, do not belong to the world. But Jesus did not ask that they be removed from the world, only that they be protected from the evil one. Finally, Jesus asked that his followers be consecrated in the truth: “I have sent them into the world, and for their sake I consecrate myself so that they too may be consecrated in the truth.”
In reading from John’s Gospel I often feel like his entire book consists of a series of speeches (it’s not but sometimes it feels that way). Last week, in a speech before his death, Jesus asked his disciples to remain in his love by keeping his commandments and that God had chosen them. Today’s Gospel gives us a speech given after Jesus’ resurrection, and while Jesus is praying to God, his message is meant also for his disciples.
Most people, and even some priests, will tell you that praying spontaneously in front of a crowd is difficult, and even a little intimidating. It has to sound like a prayer without the audience feeling like they are eavesdropping. It also has to hold the attention of the listeners.
And perhaps this is a good time to give a small aside on John’s Gospel. The other three (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) were written earlier than John and often shared sources; for this reason we know them as the “Synoptic” Gospels. John’s was the last written and differs from the others in a number of ways. John was written a full 70 years after Jesus’ resurrection and while these events were likely passed down by a combination of oral and written methods it’s hard to imagine John remembered these long passages from memory, even assuming he witnessed any of this. These speeches were probably a compilation of beliefs his followers gleaned from what they heard or read from other sources.
These beliefs matter because if we read only the Synoptics we have no sense that Jesus existed before his conception and only Matthew and Luke describe the virgin birth. We take for granted that Jesus existed with God and the Holy Spirit from the beginning of time but we get that only from John. Last week’s Gospel and today’s give us an insight into the relationship between God and Jesus, between Father and Son.
It is, simply put, the love that we aspire to in our relationships, a love that is infinite and pure. Granted it’s a love we likely won’t be able to achieve this side of paradise but it’s a good goal to work toward.
But that love won’t be accomplished simply through emotion. Love must also steer our decisions. Jesus made a point of telling us that many will hate us for our message because “they belong to the world.” Some good people of faith use the phrase “in the world but not of the world” to not participate in actions such as voting. But we are not called to that: “I have sent the into the world, and for their sake I consecrate myself so that they too may be consecrated in truth.”
We are called to go into the world, keep true to the truth, and make a difference. This may be a cliche to some of you but I love a parable that illustrates this: A young girl approached her mother and complained that life was too hard and she wanted to give up. Without saying a word her mother poured water into three pots, turned on the flame, and brought them to a boil. While that water was still boiling she placed carrots in the first, an egg in the second, and some coffee beans in the third.
After a few minutes she turned off the flame and showed her daughter how the carrot, the egg, and the coffee beans all reacted differently in the boiling water. The mother explained that the boiling water represented the challenges and suffering we all face and that there is no way to avoid this.
First she showed her daughter the carrot. It began as hard and strong, but the boiling water made it soft and weak. The carrot surrendered under the stress of suffering.
She then showed her daughter the egg. It began as fragile, a liquidy center encased in a brittle shell. But the boiling water made it hard, literally “hard boiled.” The egg reacted to the water by becoming inflexible.
Finally she showed her daughter the third pot. She removed the beans and showed how by all appearances the beans were the same. But the water was different: it was changed by the combination of the beans and the boiling water. The suffering of the boiling water changed not the beans but the water.
We are called not to allow the water to make us either soft of hard. We are called to remain true and change the water surrounding us.
When Jesus prayed to his Father he said a great deal. But at the end Jesus asked his Father give us the strength to go into the world and transform it. And in many ways we have. Whenever we act with kindness and love we are coffee beans. When we persuade another person to turn away from weakness or hardness in the face of suffering we are coffee beans.
Let’s change some water.