Sunday, May 6, 2012

Take These Words to Heart

I am not a biblical scholar, and I do not claim to have had deep studies of Scripture, although I have read many Scripture commentaries and participated in many a Bible study class.  I don’t know how many times I have read the New Testament, but certainly many dozens, and often the complete story of one of the Gospel writers.
But I still have much to learn …
I prayed my nightly rosary yesterday, and as I meditated on its mysteries I noticed the Bible sitting in the pew rack in front of me.  I felt inclined to open it and ask God to show me what He might wish to re-iterate or emphasize to me, but I turned my face away and continued my prayers.  And when I finished I remembered the inkling toward the Book, and so I asked: “Lord, what would You have me know?”  And I opened the Book.
It opened to John, chapter 17, verse 20, and so I read these words of Jesus’ prayer to His Father:
I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.  The glory which thou hast given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that thou hast sent me and hast loved them even as thou hast loved me.  Father, I desire that they also, whom thou hast given me, may be with me where I am, to behold my glory which thou hast given me in thy love for me before the foundation of the world.  O righteous Father, the world has not known thee, but I have known thee; and these know that thou hast sent me.  I made known to them thy name, and I will make it known, that the love with which thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.                  Jn 17:20-28
I don’t know if you believe that Jesus speaks to you in your life.  You may say you’ve listened, but heard nothing.  I don’t say He screams at me, or even that perhaps he leads me sometimes.  I am far from a saint.  But I do try to be open to listen to Him, not IF He speaks, for he does, but HOW He speaks to me. 
With the words from John above, I felt a re-iteration, a strengthening of something I already knew, and it gave me consolation.  I read the words as Jesus speaking them while looking at me, and I felt both good and humbled.  “Lord, I am not worthy.”  And then I noticed that the next chapter in John was headed in bold with the words:  “The  Arrest of Jesus.”  Huh!  So the words from chapter 17 I just read were said in the Garden of Gethsemane?  But wait a minute, the first line of chapter 18 says he is just entering the garden.  So then the words of chapter 17 were at the Last Supper, before he went into the garden?  No, looking further back, I saw that was not true either. 
Unlike Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the Gospel of John contains an extensive teaching and prayer of Jesus after the Last Supper, but before Jesus enters Gethsemane.  How did I never notice that before?  In fact, the Last Supper’s words are completed at the end of John chapter 13.  In chapters 14 through 17 John summarizes many of the key teachings on the Love of Jesus.  Whether some Biblical scholar might say Jesus actually said these words at that precise time or not, I do not know.  But by placing them here, after the Last Supper and before Jesus’ Passion, John gives them a huge importance.  John meant for us to take these words to heart.
Here Jesus speaks I am the way, the truth and the life (14:6), and I will not leave you desolate (14:18).  He says I am the true vine (15:1), and tell us to love one another (15:12).  He tells us I have said all this to keep you from falling away (16:1), and A little while and you will see me no more (16:6) because I am leaving the world and going to the Father (16:28).  Then he prays for the Church: Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you (17:7), and I am praying for them (17:9).  He asks the Father to: Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth (17:18).  And then he concludes chapter 17 with the words I read earlier.
This is the last of his teaching as related by John, then Jesus went forth to begin his Passion and death.
I don’t know why I never noticed these chapters of John before, and their obvious placement to stress their importance, but I am certain I will read them over and over again in the future.  His last preaching to us, the words John felt were of most importance to strengthen our belief, to tell of His love, that we might hear them especially before great trials.
And they are the words He showed me when I asked:  “What would You have me know?”  I will not forget them.
At mass today, Sunday, I stood and heard the Gospel read.  It was John, chapter 15, and I was mildly surprised.  I shouldn’t have been.  There are no coincidences with God.
Later the Offertory hymn was sung, and with the chord struck by the words of John, I found that the hymn’s words and music resonated in my heart:

                                    Here Is My Life
Behold, the eyes of the Lord search the face of the earth
To find hearts that are given, seeking souls to make pure.
To enflame this world’s darkness, to warm cold hearts with grace.
Am I here, Lord, for such a time, for such a place?
            Here is my life, Lord: heart, mind, and body.
            My soul’s surrender, take it for Your own.
            And You will lead, I know, where only love can go.
            Here is my life, O Lord, my life for You.
There is a love stronger than death, passion deeper than this life.
In the heart’s purest longing, lies the pearl of great price.
One Love, all loves surpassing, true surrender the cost.
Am I here, Lord, to bear this love and share its cross?
            Here is my life, Lord: heart, mind, and body.
            My soul’s surrender, take it for Your own.
            And You will lead, I know, where only love can go.
            Here is my life, O Lord, my life for You.
(by Ed Conlin,  © The Servants of the Word, Ann Arbor, MI)

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