GOSPEL, FIRST READING & PSALM TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
For our purposes here though, I just want to highlight, I'd like to emphasize the priestly character of the prayer in two key ways. First of all, you'll notice it doesn't use the word priest. So you might be thinking, "Why is this called the High Priestly Prayer?" And the answer to that question is the reason it's called the High Priestly Prayer is because Jesus is not just praying for himself. He's not just praying to the Father, but he is interceding for himself and for the apostles, and eventually for the whole world if you read the entire prayer all the way down through to the end. And this pattern, this threefold pattern of intercession, scholars have actually shown reflects the prayer of the high priest on the Day of Atonement in the Old Testament in the book of Leviticus.
So let me just highlight a couple of elements for you here. The first thing I would highlight, it actually isn't in the reading today, but I'll bring it up anyway just to give you a sense of what the prayer is all about. In John 17:17, when Jesus continues to pray, he goes on to pray for the apostles. He intercedes for the apostles. And in that verse 17 and verse 19, he says:
meaning sanctify the apostles
in the truth; thy word is truth.
And then again in verse 19, he says:
for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be consecrated in truth.
Now the Greek word here for sanctify or consecrate, hagiazō,
means to make holy. Right? So if you consecrate something, you make it sacred, you make it holy.
Well, this verb, hagiazō, is the exact verb that's used in the Old Testament to describe priestly ordination. Very interesting, priestly ordination. For example, in the Book of Exodus 29:1, in the ancient Greek translation, we read these words:
“Now this is what you shall do to them to consecrate them…
hagiazō in Greek
…that they may serve me as priests.”
So the same word Jesus here is using with reference to himself, “I consecrate myself, that they also may be consecrated”, is the word used in the Greek Old Testament to describe to the consecration or ordination of sons of Aaron to be priests. So those verses which aren't in the reading for today, is one of the foundations for why this prayer is called the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus. He’s speaking of himself as one who has been consecrated, or you could actually translate it almost as ordained, right? Made holy, set apart as a priest, and of his disciples as those who have been consecrated or made priests in the truth. And you might be thinking, "Well, wait, when were they made priests?" Well, if we have more time, I could look at the fact that he's done this at the Last Supper itself.
The church has interpreted the words of institution, "Do this in memory of me," as the consecration or the ordination, the moment when Jesus consecrates the apostles to be the priests of the new covenant, to offer the sacrifice of the new covenant. So we see echoes of that here as well.
The other reason it's called a High Priestly Prayer is that if you look at the whole prayer for today, and not just the reading for today, there are parallels with the intercessory prayers, the Priestly Prayers of Aaron in the Old Testament on the Day of Atonement. So if you look for a second, I've got a chart here that can help you see these parallels. So if you look in the Old Testament on the Day of Atonement, in the book of Leviticus 16, it says that the high priests on the Day of Atonement sacrifices “for himself." And if you look at the New Testament, the prayer of Jesus in John 17, Jesus explicitly prays…he begins by praying for himself in verses 1 and 5.
Second, in the Old Testament, if you go back to the Day of Atonement, the high priest doesn't just sacrifice "for himself”, he also sacrifices “for his house”, meaning his family. So the Aaronic family in Leviticus 16:11,17, he offers an intercessory prayer and sacrifice for his house. The same thing's true if you look at the New Testament, the High Priestly Prayer, Jesus doesn't just pray for himself, he also prays for his apostles, for his disciples. John 17:9, "I am praying for them," he says in the verses we heard from today.
And then finally, in the Old Testament, the high priest doesn't just pray for himself and for his house, for his priestly sons, he also prays for the people of Israel.
He prays for the whole assembly. In verse 17, he prays and sacrifices for “the assembly.” And then finally, Jesus in the High Priestly Prayer also prays, “also for those who will believe in me through their word." This is in John 17:21,22. It's not in the reading again for today, it’s at the end of the prayer. But Jesus goes on to pray not just for himself, not just for the apostles, but for everyone who will believe through the apostles, namely for the Church. And so because of these prayers, these parallels between the Old Testament and the New Testament, several scholars, including one you might be familiar with, Pope Benedict XVI in his book, Jesus of Nazareth, has highlighted these parallels as a way of showing that what's taking place…Here’s the neat upshot. What’s taking place in the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus in John 17 is that Jesus is not only fulfilling the Jewish Passover in the sacrifice, in the actions and words at the Last Supper and his sacrifice on the cross, he's also fulfilling the Jewish Day of Atonement.
So he's gathering up both the Feast of Passover into his passion, death and resurrection through the words and the Passover at the Last Supper…And he's gathering up the kind of prayer and sacrifice and intercession that you see from the Jewish Day of Atonement into his Paschal mystery as well. So it’s like he's taking each thread of the Old Testament, all the different feasts of the Old Testament are being fulfilled in Christ, in his passion, his death, his resurrection, and his ascension. And you might recall the Day of Atonement was of course the annual feast, once a year in the Jewish calendar, where the high priests would offer a sacrifice for all the sins that the people of Israel had committed during that one year in order to atone, to reconcile the entire people with God on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement or the day of covering, you could translate it, when the sins of the people are covered over. So as Pope Benedict shows, and I'd highly encourage you to read that second volume, there's a beautiful chapter on the High Priestly Prayer, by means of this prayer, Jesus is in a sense fulfilling another aspect of the law and the prophets, the Old Testament and the Day of Atonement. And you don't have to read Benedict to, if you'd like, I have a course called The Bible and the Mass. It's a full class where I take you through how Jesus doesn't just fulfill Passover or the Day of Atonement, but how he, through his words and his actions, fulfills all seven of the major festivals of the Old Testament liturgical calendar: Passover, Pentecost, Day of Atonement, the Feast of Tabernacles, the Feast of Trumpets. All those liturgies of the Old Testament are fulfilled in the Paschal mystery of Jesus Christ. So you might check that out if you want to go into more depth because it's really powerful and it's really beautiful.
So for our purposes here, though, we're going to go back to the first reading for today and bring our study of the High Priestley Prayer to a close by looking at the other readings...
SECOND READING TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
A second aspect of the passage that goes a little beyond what Jesus says, though, in that beatitude is the specific reference to being reproached or persecuted for the name of Christ, bearing the name of Jesus, is something that early on the apostles and disciples begin to experience. They are associated with Jesus or Jesus the Nazarene. One of the names for the early Church by some of its opponents, they were called the Nazoreans because they were followers of the Nazarene, followers of the man from Nazareth. And because that man from Nazareth claimed to be the Christ, the Messiah, Christos
in Greek, mashiach
in Hebrew, both of which mean anointed one, here Peter says:
If you are reproached for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory and of God rests upon you
However, notice here he gives a caveat:
But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or a thief, or a wrongdoer, or a mischief-maker
Okay, so he is very concerned to emphasize that suffering for Christ is virtuous, suffering for Christ brings blessing, suffering for Christ brings glory. But if anyone happens to be suffering for some other reason, because they've been sinning or because they've been breaking the law, because they've been violating the commandments, obviously, that is a whole different category of suffering. That person should be ashamed, whereas if someone suffers as a Christian, they should not be ashamed. In fact, rather, they should consider themselves blessed and they should rejoice.
All right, now in this passage, we see one of the few times in the New Testament where we actually get the word Christian, "if one suffers as a Christian." And the Greek word there is Christianos
, and it's an interesting term for a couple of reasons. First, if you go back and you look at the book of Acts, for example, Christian was not the earliest way of referring to followers of Jesus. So the Acts of the Apostles will talk about those who belong to The Way, ho hodos
in Greek. It can mean the way or the path. And that name appears to have been the earliest name for the Church, or one of the earliest names for the Church. If you were a member of the Church, you belong to The Way. But it wasn't very long before followers of Jesus, or members of The Way, started to be referred to by others as Christianoi
, Christians. And for example, you'll see in Acts 11:26, it says that it was actually in the church at Antioch that they were first called Christianoi
Now what does that word mean? Well there's some debate about it, so sometimes you'll hear it said, and I may have said this myself, that it means a little Christ. So Christ, Christos
, is the anointed one. Christianos
would be a little Christ. So this interpretation of the word sees it as what scholars refer to as a diminutive, so you have Christ and you have a little Christ, a diminutive form of the name Christ. But more recent scholarship actually inclines toward a different interpretation, that what Christianos
means is those who belong to Christ or who are members of the party of Christ, that it actually might be more of a collective or communal term, a possessive term rather than diminutive. So for example, there are parallels with this. You might recall in the gospels, there's a brief mention in Matthew and Mark of the Herodians. The Greek word there is Herōdianoi
, very similar to Christianoi
. It means those belonging to the party of Herod or those Jews who were supporters of Herod. Saint Jerome actually said that the Herōdianoi
referred to those who thought that Herod was the Messiah because Herod built the temple. He did some of the things that the Messiah was expected to do, and he claimed, of course, to be king. So the Herōdianoi
were those who belonged to Herod or those who thought that Herod was the Messiah.
And then there were also the Kaisarianoi
, those who belonged to the party of Caesar, those who were political supporters of Caesar. So in this interpretation, what Christianoi
or Christian means is those who belong to Christ, who are part of the body or the party, so to speak, who support Christ and who honor Him, not just as a great prophet, but as the Christos
, as the Messiah, as the long-awaited king of Israel.
So if that's the case, and I think that that's a very likely interpretation, what Peter is saying here is if you are being reproached, if you are being persecuted because you are a Christianos
, you are one who belongs to Christ, then your response to that is not to be ashamed, but to rejoice, to count yourself blessed because you will share in the glory of the Christ, the Messiah, when He comes again at the end.
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