On this particular Sunday, the only Sunday between the Ascension of our Lord and Pentecost, the Gospel text is always from a particular chapter of the Gospel according to John, the Gospel account that has a distinctly different time setting from the other accounts.
For this Sunday, the Gospel text is always from John 17, what is more commonly known as Jesus' High Priestly Prayer. And, for this year, the first few verses of that chapter is the appointed reading.
Jesus shows just how different his time frame is when he, in verse 11 of the text, says that he is no longer in the world. Depending on how those words are read, they might have a wide range of reactions.
One of the first might be something like, "How could he say that? He's about to do his most important act of dying on the cross and rising to life again!"
This is most certainly true. But Jesus' use of the word 'world' is a bit more negative than ours. And that is probably a good thing to keep in mind. Even if we have a home in this world, this world is not our home.
A serious struggle between some parts of the world and Jesus may be seen in this Gospel account. And we get a good reminder of the struggle when, in the Small Catechism, one of our worst enemies listed is the world.
The perspective we receive in the Gospel according to John is that Jesus is essentially never truly bothered by the world, the devil, or even the sinful nature of people. The hour for Jesus finally comes when some people from Greece come to see him. The hour finally comes when Judas leaves to betray him. The hour comes so often when other people do something and not Jesus.
This pushes out our puny perspectives, especially when we think we have a problem here or there. God has an eternal solution for you. Better yet, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all work together to do something quite wonderful, something we could not wreck, even if we tried really hard.
Jesus, after having redeemed the sinful race, ascended into heaven, and that is a much better position for him--and for those who do not mind having a human nature like Jesus'. In a very real sense, we are also no longer in this world.
Now that is a different perspective.
"Either you're coming or you're not!" "Either you're leaving us or you're not!" Those statements obviously have an either/or ring to them. They give two choices. Either a person is in a place or the person is not in a place.
But with Jesus there seems to be a third category. He told his disciples that he would be leaving. And then he tells them that he is coming to them. Well, which one is it?
It sounds like he is going away and then coming back. And certainly that happened at his death and resurrection. But it also happens when he ascended into heaven but then comes when his words are spoken. And that is an emphasis on this account when Jesus blesses those who have not seen and yet believe (on account of these words that have been written; John 20:31).
The gospel text for this Sunday contains Jesus' first use of the word 'paraklete'--not parakeet--by Jesus (John 14:16). It is defined as someone who appears in another's behalf, a mediator, intercessor, helper (BDAG). It's an important word. There is also a history of the word being connected to the job of lawyer or advocate, and that is a person who uses a LOT of words.
It is also important to remember that Jesus implies that he is a helper as well; it is not just the Holy Spirit who uses words.
In the first chapter of this Gospel account, when it says that Jesus is going to be around for a little while, it uses the very unusual term of 'tenting' among us (1:14). That assumes only a short, fragile if you will, stay. Later in the work, Jesus says that he is going to remain. More specifically, in 14:23 Jesus says that 'If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.' The idea of staying for a long while is pretty clear there.
It is interesting that, at the beginning of the chapter, Jesus used the same word for 'home' when he said that 'in my Father's house are many rooms.' Jesus says he is going to prepare a place for us there. Here the word is translated as 'room' because it would sound a little strange for Jesus to say 'in my Father's house are many homes'.
But there is a comforting ring to the word 'home'. I think that is why the translators use it there. And Jesus' words (and actions) are meant to be extremely comforting. Being at home with Jesus--wherever Jesus is--that is truly comforting.
His words mean his presence--his presence in a way that he decides, and he wants to be present in a very gentle and comforting way.
The timing of the Gospel according to John is significantly different from the other accounts. That Gospel account used the Roman time system, whereas the others followed the Hebrew time system. Having a different time system obviously may throw a person off, and I think that is meant to be the point.
The three similar accounts--Matthew, Mark, and Luke--all work together in a very similar way. And the living creatures that are most often connected to those three accounts are ones that are usually found on the ground--man, lion, and ox. But the symbol connected with the Gospel according to John is the eagle, and that is in a completely different category. As I have said before, this Gospel account starts at very beginning of time, and it ends with the writer talking to the reader or listener--the present. The timing of this account is significantly different.
So I am not too surprised when Jesus says the hour has come and he is not yet on the cross. The point at which this happens is even quite unusual, that some Greeks have come to Jerusalem to worship and they ask to see Jesus (John 12:20ff).
And it seems like time slows down significantly after that. After a person reads the first three accounts of Maundy Thursday, he or she can get the idea that Jesus does not have a lot of time to waste. The Lord's Supper has to get instituted, and Judas has to get sent on his special mission. But Jesus says some significantly different things in this account on that special evening--an evening that seems to drag on for several chapters. Again, I think time is getting all messed up.
But I do not think that to be a bad thing. A person can be proud to know the exact time, down to the very second, but what good is that? I remember writing previously about the expression 'to HAVE time', and I think that expression can be easily misused by people; they can easily think that they are in control.
I think I have mentioned before that Luther wrote an excellent sermon on time, based on the saying in Matthew, 'Do not be anxious'; it is not a matter of how much of it a person has, but what the Lord blesses that makes the difference.
The Gospel according to John, with its special 'farewell discourse' (John 14ff), disrupts our shameful ideas of time and builds a stronger foundation. In the first parts of that chapter, Jesus is helping his disciples to get a better perspective, one that will last through all the bad things ahead.
Peter will end up betraying him (and does not think he will), Thomas admits he does not know where Jesus is going, and Philip is wanting to see the Father. Jesus could have done a few miracles. Instead he says a few words. And that should be enough for now--for them and for us.
This Sunday is known to many as Good Shepherd Sunday, and the Gospel text is usually from a part of John 10. This gospel account is probably the best to have when you run out of resurrection accounts from a particular gospel (because the season of Easter is usually seven weeks long).
The perspective of the Gospel according to John is significantly different from the beginning. Right away we hear confessions of faith from John the Baptist and from some of the disciples as well.
We eventually hear statements of faith from some Samaritans of all people! And the man who was born blind ends up defending Jesus rather well. And I would imagine that Lazarus had some stories to tell after he had been dead for four days; the enemies of Jesus decided that they needed to get rid of him as well.
The struggles that are seen in the book of Acts are somewhat reflected in this gospel account, and that is a healthy repetition. Often we think of the gospel accounts as just having stories that tell some more of what Jesus did while he was on earth. But they were picked with a purpose.
The writer clearly states that purpose near the end of his work: 'These things were written that YOU may believe....' The writer dares to get personal, and that is because eternal lives are ultimately at stake.
And the beginning of the text from John 10 is a reminder of the importance of simple words. The sheep hear the voice of their shepherd and follow him. His words are different from the words of others. The text specifically points out the thieves and robbers. Both thieves and robbers try to take things; Jesus does the opposite and tries to give things out.
The way of salvation in any made-up religion has you doing something; Christianity has God, in Christ, doing something for you. Now that is something worth following.