John 17:6-19

Commentary Excerpt by Tom Boomershine

This is the story for Ascension Sunday. It is part of Jesus' final prayer. It's at the end of his long talk with the disciples that began in chapter 13 with the washing of their feet.The talk builds up to the climax of this prayer. This prayer, then, is the culmination of Jesus' relationship with the disciples. It is also the point of transition from his being with them to his being with God. That's why it is an appropriate scripture for Ascension Sunday.

In the context of John, it is important to recognize that Jesus is now speaking to God, to the Father, but the disciples are watching. Jesus is praying for his disciples, but he is addressing the Father. That's what you want to catch in the telling of this. On the one hand, Jesus is talking to the Father; but on the other hand, he is addressing the audience as his disciples. He is inviting them to listen in on his prayer. In telling the story, you are issuing that same invitation to your audience. Jesus is praying for his disciples; so also,you are praying for the people who are gathered in your community.

The tone of the prayer is a tone of peace and of intimacy with God. It may also have been chanted in its original context, so you might want to experiment with chanting this prayer. The substance of the prayer is a paraphrase of Jesus' earlier prayer that he taught the disciples—the Lord's Prayer—which begins with, "Our Father who is in heaven,hallowed be your name." That is, "may your name be sanctified and may it be honored in the world." This is a prayer of petition because often God's name is not honored; it is taken in vain. It is used in curses every day. More importantly, this prayer that God's name might be honored is also a prayer for what might happen in relationship between God and the human race. Many people are fed up with God and think that God is responsible for all of the terrible things that happen in the world and either mock or hate the name of God rather than hallowing it. Jesus has made God's name known and, "They have received them [his words] and know in truth that I came from you. They believe that you sent me…" At the beginning of this prayer in John 17, then, is the prayer for God's name.

Jesus identifies the words that he speaks as words that have come from God. They have a divine source. These are words that God has spoken to Jesus and that Jesus has made known and has communicated to his disciples and to those with whom he has been in conversation throughout this Gospel. They are words he has communicated to the listener: "I have told everything that I have heard from the Father to them"—"them"referring to those who are listening. The prayer is for them. The prayer is that they might be saved from the powers of this world and that they might be one. What that means is that they were not one in the first century, just as they are not one now. That is why Jesus needed to pray and asked that their oneness might be restored. Their protection in God's name is "that they may be one as we are one."

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