Psalm 68:29-30, 33-35a, 35bc-36ab
In today’s Gospel, Jesus makes three petitions to the Father in his priestly prayer. He first asks the Father to keep his disciples in the Father’s name so that they may be one. Jesus protected the disciples during his public ministry and kept them united in mind and heart. Now, Jesus is returning the Father, to reign at his right hand, and so he prays that the Father will keep them. In heaven, Jesus will continue his intercession for the disciples before the Father’s throne of grace and will send the Holy Spirit to guide them to truth and protect them as Advocate.
Jesus’ second petition asks the Father to keep his disciples from the Evil One. Jesus taught his disciples to pray to the Father with the petitions: “Lead us not into temptation” and “Deliver us from evil”. These two petitions recognize the efforts of Satan to frustrate the plan of God. Our prayer is not a plea for an easy life, for God allows us to be tried. These trials that he allows bring us to maturity and lead us from superficial piety to oneness with God’s will.
When we ask, “Lead us not into temptation”, we express our awareness that the devil can do nothing against us unless God has allowed it beforehand. We ask God to remember that our strength goes only so far and ask him to be close to us with his protecting hand (see Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth Part I, 163). The last petition of the Lord’s Prayer asks the Father to deliver us and free us from evil or the Evil One. “In asking to be liberated from the power of evil, we are ultimately asking for God’s Kingdom, for union with his will, and for the sanctification of his name” (Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth Part I, 167).
Jesus’ third petition in his priestly prayer asks the Father to consecrate the Apostles in the truth. Sanctity or holiness belongs properly to God alone. “To sanctify” or “to consecrate” means to hand something over to God. Because something or someone is consecrated, they are given to God, and now they exists for others and are given to others. In the Gospel of John, Jesus speaks about three consecrations or sanctifications. The first consecration is the sending of the Son into the world by the Father (John 10:36). This means that “God is exercising a total claim over this man, ‘setting him apart’ for himself, yet at the same time sending him out for the nations” (Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth Part II, 87). Jesus belongs totally to God and is sent out to all men and women to bring them into communion with the Father.
Second, the Son sanctifies himself (John 17:19). He presents himself as an acceptable and unblemished sacrifice. The first consecration focuses on the Incarnation; the second on the Passion. “Jesus himself is the priest sent into the world by the Father; he himself is the sacrifice that is made present in the Eucharist of all times” (Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth Part II, 88).
Third, Jesus asks, “on the basis of his own sanctification, that the disciples be sanctified in the truth” (Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth Part II, 85-86). He prays: “I consecrate myself for them, so that they also may be consecrated in truth”. The disciples are drawn into Jesus’ holiness and sent into the world. In this way they share in Jesus’ priestly holiness and in his priestly mission. “Whoever, like Jesus, is segregated from the world and set apart for God with a view to a task is, for this very reason, fully available to all. For the disciples, the task will be to continue Jesus’ mission, to be given to God and thereby to be on mission for all” (Pope Benedict XVI, A School of Prayer, 150).
In the first reading, Paul reflects on his mission. He is giving a farewell address to the presbyters of the church of Ephesus. He has been faithful to his priestly mission and is able to invite the presbyters to imitate him. As he concludes his address, he tells the presbyters to be on the watch for false teachers, both those outside the church and those within. “True teachers lead people to fidelity to Jesus’ person and teaching, whereas false teachers reshape the message to enhance their own influence, undermining faith and unity” (W. Kurz, Acts of the Apostles, Baker Academic, 314).
Just as Jesus entrusted the disciples to God’s care in his Last Supper discourse; so does Paul commend the leaders of the church of Ephesus to God and to the word of his grace. “Paul recognizes that a dynamic power resides in the gospel”; it has power to build up the Christian community as the house of God. The word of God’s grace can also give them the inheritance that God has planned for them. In the Old Testament, the inheritance of God’s people was the promised land of Canaan; now in Christ it is eternal life. “This inheritance will be for all who are consecrated, that is, all who are made holy by baptism into Christ” (W. Kurz, Acts of the Apostles, Baker Academic, 315).
We pray today that the Father watch over us and guide us; we pray that we may resist the temptations and lies of the devil and mature spiritually under trial; we pray that we may be consecrated in the truth, and, in this way, share in God’s holiness and live for our brothers and sisters.
Readers may contact Father Jason Mitchell at [email protected].