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Jesus’ followers are kept, sanctified and sent into the world in John 17

The Sunday lectionary gospel reading for Easter 7 in Year B is John 17.6–19, the central section of Jesus’ so-called ‘High Priestly Prayer’. The reading omits the introduction and opening sentences of the prayer, and stops short before the often-quoted ‘that they might be one’; I have previously commented on the use of this phrase, usually taken in isolation from the rest of the prayer.

It is worth looking at the prayer a little more closely, and putting it in its context both in John’s gospel and amongst the gospels as a whole. The prayer forms the climax of the Last Supper discourse in John—but of course John himself mentions no supper, but instead focusses on the washing of the disciples’ feet by Jesus. This reminds us that we need to read John in one hand with the synoptics, and particularly Mark, in the other; the two fill out each other and give each other context. So we read that, after this prayer of John 17, Jesus ‘goes out’ in John 18.1, but we need to turn to Mark 14.32 to know the name of the place, Gethsemane, to which he goes, and what happens there.

It is also worth noting from the outset that the longer form of Jesus’ speech in John is not, in itself, a reason to treat the synoptics as more historical, and John more of a theological construction of what Jesus said. Even the speeches in John are relatively short, and all the teaching of Jesus recorded in the synoptics would take mere hours to recite, so we must treat them as (quite possibly reliable) summaries of longer and more extensive teaching.

Turning to the prayer itself, we find many of the earlier themes and ideas in John drawn together. First, in the opening verses (not included in our lectionary reading) we meet the notions of ‘hour’ and ‘glory’; John has from the beginning been interested in days and hours, and in Cana Jesus tells Mary that ‘my hour has not yet come’ (John 2.4) and yet, in the miracle and in anticipation of what is to follow here, ‘Jesus did the first of his signs…and revealed his glory’ (John 2.11).