Lenten Devotion: Saturday, February 29

Psalm 30Psalm 32Psalm 42Psalm 43Ezekiel 39:21-29Philippians 4:10-20John 17:20-26

“My prayer is not for them [the disciples] alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me [us] through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.”
John 17: 20-21

The scripture passage from John today focuses just on verses 20-26, but I commend to you the entire Chapter 17. It is generally referred to as Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer, or sometimes the Great Intercessory Prayer. Jesus has shared the Last Supper with the disciples, washed their feet, given them a new commandment, and explained to them that he is about to leave them. Then he “looked toward heaven and prayed.” 17:1 While they are listening, and with remarkable intimacy, he prays for himself (1-5), for his disciples (6-19), and for us (20-26).

Many commentators suggest that John 17 should be thought of as the true Lord’s Prayer, rather than the familiar “Our Father” of Matthew 6. The “Our Father” might rather be called the Disciples Prayer, because he gives it to them, and to us, to pray for God’s intercession. Here it is Jesus actually praying aloud for that intercession… to protect the disciples as they continue to spread his word through the world, and to bring his believers into unity with him “in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” 17:26.

This is strong stuff. But to me the most impactful aspect of it is that these are Jesus’ own words, prayed to God in front of his disciples, asking for God’s intercession. I have to admit that in my own prayer life, I sometimes wonder (more often than I would like) if it really makes a difference. We pray after all that “thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Isn’t it presumptuous—even ridiculous—of me to think that I could change God’s will? Isn’t God’s will immutable? Unknowable? Predetermined?

But here in John 17, Jesus is praying at length, with great passion, in front of his disciples…implying that it makes a difference. What was the point of his prayer if all is predetermined? Why would he do this if it didn’t make a difference? Clearly, he is telling us that it does make a difference when we pray for others. We’re allowed to intercede, because he did. We may not be able to change God’s will, but in a way that we will never be able to explain, we can have an influence on it. If our hearts and motives are pure, we can hope (and hope is the operative word here) to be one very small agent in carrying out God’s will, just as Jesus in the upper room sought God’s assistance in protecting this ragtag group of eleven in the short run, and the multitude of us who would come after in the long run.