[by Eric Zander]
We’re meant to be in the world,
not just by default, but according to His call.
Just before He was arrested, a few hours before the Cross, Jesus prayed this magnificent prayer (John 17) for his disciples, and also for us, “those who will believe in me through their message”. This is, in fact, the only time that he mentions us specifically. And we’re touched that his last thoughts before his ultimate sacrifice are for us, praying for our unity with God and with each other. But it’s also the only time when Jesus prays ‘negatively’. He insists on what he’s not praying for, as if to avoid any misunderstanding with the Father, as if he is highlighting the risks inherent in this unity which is nonetheless so vital.
“My prayer is not that you take them out of the world” (v.15). Jesus is fully conscious of the danger of our seeking this unity by cutting ourselves off from the world, by building a wall around us to protect us from the Enemy who governs this world. And we fall so easily into this trap. Our lives and our churches so often resemble fortified castles in which we take refuge. We’re aware of our responsibility to reach the lost with the Gospel and we attempt from time to time to make an incursion into enemy territory. But we’re not taken seriously and our impact on the world is often very limited. And society itself adds another barrier by relegating personal faith to the private sphere, and our community life to ecclesiastical structures which, though they may be officially recognised, are seen as disconnected from real life.
However, if Jesus reminds us in his famous prayer that we don’t belong to the world (v.14 and 16), he underlines that we’re here on purpose, not just by default, but according to his call: “As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” (v.18). Like salt that penetrates and adds savour, on condition that it comes out of the salt-cellar, Jesus calls us to integrate into this world in order to let it taste the flavour of the Gospel. Following the example of Jesus, the Word made flesh, the Light coming into the darkness of the world, we must also ‘let our light shine before men, that they may see our good deeds and praise our Father in heaven.’ (Matt. 5 v.16).
Instead of inviting those who are outside to scale the impossibly high walls of our churches, let us go out and re-integrate into society around us, showing God’s love by our good deeds. Just as Jesus came to us, let us go to them, and become part of their world. Then we will make our Gospel believable. Then our words will resonate and make sense.