Readings: Acts 1:15-17,20-26, Ps. 103:1-2,11-12,19-20, 1 John 4:11-16, John 17:11-19

“Holy Father, protect them in the name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.” (John 17:11)

Last Sunday, Jesus told us that as branches, we are called to bear fruits that will last. The key to bearing fruits is to love one another as He loved us (Cf. John 15:12). It is easy to love those who love us, but to love as Jesus loved, we must be like God, who allows his rain to fall on both the good and the bad (cf. Matthew 5:45). That is, we must love everyone equally regardless of their language, race or religion. Like God, we must never show partiality (Cf. Acts 10:45). Peter learnt this when he saw the Holy Spirit descend upon Cornelius and his house even though they were still uncircumcised. Loving one another as Jesus loved us is difficult, yet it makes us children of God. In last Sunday’s Second Reading, St. John clearly warned that anyone who does not love his fellow human beings does not know God.

Today’s First Reading reminds us of one man who failed to love others, one who loved money more than his friends and went to sell Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus referred to Judas Iscariot as the “son of perdition.” It is easy to condemn Judas Iscariot, but we can only benefit from the story by seeing Judas Iscariot in ourselves and repenting while we still have time. In today’s Second Reading, St. John continues his sermon on the need to love one another as children of God. When we love, we abide by God, and God lives in us. In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus does not deliver a sermon but prays a very powerful prayer for us, His followers. Let us now examine this prayer and consider the lessons contained in today’s readings:

1. “Holy Father, Keep Them In Your Name…” (John 17:11)
The first request in Jesus’ Prayer is for God to keep us in His Name. Jesus is praying for our faithfulness, loyalty, perseverance, steadfastness, commitment, and resilience as His disciples. He prays that we would remain His disciples, unwavering even in the face of the challenges and storms that life inevitably brings. There's a saying, "Tough times don’t last, but tough people do.” By praying that we remain in God’s Name, Jesus is essentially praying that we become tough. Show me a person who stands by you in both good times and bad, and I'll show you a true friend. A person who abandons you when things get tough doesn't deserve to be called your friend. This is the essence of the church’s approved formula for marital vows – for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and health till death do us part. Faithfulness is the ability to remain loyal to a cause or someone, regardless of the circumstances.

In today’s First Reading, when the disciples gathered to select a replacement for Judas, their criterion was faithfulness. Peter said: “One of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us – one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” (Acts 1:21-22). To restore the vacuum created by Judas Iscariot, who was more faithful to his pocket than to Jesus (and failed to remain with Jesus by asking forgiveness afterwards), the disciples wanted someone who remained faithful even when nothing was at stake. Do you remember when many of Jesus’ disciples left him due to the issue of the Holy Eucharist? (Cf. John 6:66-68). Jesus even asked the twelve if they also wished to leave.

Isn’t it surprising that only two people passed the faithfulness test? Despite the large crowds accompanying Jesus everywhere? Only Joseph Justus and Matthias were there from the beginning and remained until the end. If you look around you, you will see a church packed full of people, but the question is, how many of us will remain faithful to the end? No wonder Jesus said: “The gate is wide, and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:13-14).

2. “That They May Be One, Even As We Are One.” (John 17:11).
The second request of Jesus in this prayer was for unity among His followers. If you want to conquer any group, be it as small as a family or as large as a country, make them fight one another, and they are finished. To appreciate the value of unity, let us reflect on what we have suffered as a people in this part of the world all because of disunity. Even as a church, have we been united? Haven’t we acted as Judas Iscariot at various times to bring down our fellow parishioners? Haven’t we leaked out the secrets of persons close to us to their enemies all because of money? Haven’t we betrayed our colleagues in school or at work with a kiss?

In the Lord’s Prayer, we refer to God as “Our Father”, but in reality, we hardly behave like brothers and sisters of the same Father. Disunity among Christians is a great scandal. Imagine you are an unbeliever; how would you feel when you see Catholics fighting Pentecostals, Christian Mothers fighting CWO, Charismatics fighting Legion of Mary or members of Living Faith fighting members of Dunamis? It is a shame. As St. Paul puts it: “Brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? To have lawsuits at all with one another is a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?” (1 Corinthians 6:6-7).

This reminds us of St. John’s teaching in last Sunday’s Second Reading: “Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God; for God is love.” (1 John 4:7-8). Disunity among us is a sign that we are churchgoers, not Christians. Today, St. John tells us that no one has ever seen God, but we make God visible when we love one another. “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” (1 John 4:16). Is there someone I have refused to forgive? Is there a brother or sister that I hate even when they haven’t offended me? What is God saying to me right now?

3. “Leave Them in The World But Keep Them From The Evil One. (John 17:15)
The third request of Jesus in this prayer was for God’s protection for us, His followers. Why does Jesus ask God to keep us from the evil one? Jesus answers this question within the same prayer: “I have given them your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” (John 17:14). In other words, Jesus prays to God to protect us because He knows that as long as we let our light shine as his followers, we cannot escape the hatred of the world. Wouldn’t it be better if God removed us from a world that was hostile to Jesus and continued its hostility against His followers? Here is the twist – even though the world hates us, the world needs us to survive. The world hates us, yet we are the light and salt of the world. (cf. Matthew 5:13-16). If God were to remove all the good people from the world today, the world would cease to exist in a matter of days.

Jesus wants us to remain in the world, but He understands the dangers ahead. He knows that we are like sheep amid wolves. (cf. Matthew 10:16). In the words of St. Paul, we are not wrestling against flesh and blood “but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12). There are some battles that only God can fight for us. This is why Jesus prays that God would keep us from the evil one. In this same light, in today’s First Reading, the Apostles prayed: “Lord, who knowest the hearts of all men, show which one of these two thou hast chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside, to go to his place.” (Acts 1:24-25). Never underestimate prayer – your power over the forces of evil in our world today.

4. “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.” (John 17:17) 
The final request of Jesus in His priestly prayer is that His followers would become sanctified in the truth, which is the Word of God. There is power in the Word. It is our ticket to salvation. As Jesus says: “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (John 8:31-32). To be sanctified in the truth is to be devoted to studying God’s Word. How often do I study and meditate on the Bible? On the other hand, am I committed to spreading the truth? As we celebrate World Communications Day today, we are called to ponder our use of various communication technologies, such as artificial intelligence. Do I use communication to evangelise the world? Or am I among those recruited by the devil to spread falsehood and immorality through social media?

Let us pray: Almighty, ever-living God, make me an agent of unity, love and holiness in your church. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Remember, amid all challenges, choose to be happy. Live with a positive mindset and believe in God’s plan for you. God bless you abundantly. (7th Sunday of Easter. Bible Study: Acts 1:15-17,20-26, Ps. 103:1-2,11-12,19-20, 1 John 4:11-16, John 17:11-19).

@Rev. Fr. Evaristus E. Abu