Christ the Suffering Redeemer, Mantegna, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark.
[Jesus prayed:] …they do not belong to the world
any more than I belong to the world.
I do not ask that you take them out of the world
but that you keep them from the evil one.
They do not belong to the world. John 17:14-16
Jesus is talking about the “world” in a special way here. Commentators have pointed out at least three different Scriptural meanings of this word. In Genesis, God made the world and was pleased with it. Then, according to John himself, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son” (John 3:16). So it is clear that these meanings do not apply to today’s gospel. The world Jesus is talking about here is clearly evil, the world dominated by Satan. And, also, the world we all live in. This is the world of self and greed and corruption. It is the world demonstrated in the movie Wall Street, with its principal character famously declaring that “greed is good”. He was so convincing that Michael Douglas, who played him, won that year’s Oscar for best performance. It is a chilling film, demonstrating in blazing clarity the meaning of Jesus’ words. The movie predictably ends in tears, prison and ruined careers and lives, but I suspect there might be others out there who have succeeded in infamy and have ruined others in hacking their way to the top. All this is exactly what the Lord is talking about. This is the world we live in for better or worse, and it is our job to show the light rather than plunge into the darkness seeking our own good and all others be damned.
Love is the mirror opposite of that dark world Jesus is talking about. Love means that we do not trample over others on our way to the top. Indeed it might well mean that we help others to the top (the essence of a teacher’s job!). Today’s second reading has a remarkable statement that God is love (1 John 4:16), the only time in Scripture that God is so described. This must mean that concern and care for others trump all other concerns. It is the essence of heroism and other worldliness. We are all here in this world to serve others, not to be served. That is from the lips of the Savior himself (Mark 10:45). And that is the vision which conquers the world which killed Jesus, the world of darkness and evil, if we but dare to live it. It is also the vocation we all share. Jesus prayed that God not take us out of this suffering world, but that God defend and assist us in being Christians in that challenging context. We are here to convert it! How? By setting an example of good living, helping others as necessary, developing our own God-given gifts the better to accomplish that. Never to seek revenge, never to hate, never to bring others down, but always to look on others as God’s own children, be they fallen angels or whatever. A challenging role to play in this world, but that is the one to which Jesus clearly calls each of us.
And now let us look at today’s first reading. The original 12 disciples were down to 11 with the treachery of Judas. Jesus had ascended into heaven, and they were well and truly on their own. At that point they were still behind locked doors, scared to death that the punishment visited on Jesus would be their destiny as his followers. At that point they had not yet received the Holy Spirit, promised by Jesus before he left them, yet they decided to add to their number to get back to the original 12. A priestly friend of mine has suggested that it was because of all that, that they selected another man and not a woman to fill the vacancy! Who knows? It is an intriguing thought: would God’s Holy Spirit have guided them to such a choice? Is God’s Holy Spirit guiding us to such a decision today to make up for it?
So here we are today, in a world which seems to getting scarier by the day. Nations threatening each other with warfare, pollution damaging God’s environment in multiple ways, unfairness and abuse in the workplace and many other injustices and threats. Where is the light of love and service to others? Well it all starts with each of us, one person at a time, showing what the power of truth and love and care can do. Example can be a powerful weapon for good. And remember we are not alone. Jesus says this very day:
As you sent me into the world,
so I sent them into the world.
And I consecrate myself for them,
so that they also may be consecrated in truth. John 17:18-19.
Which means we are not alone in our mission to consecrate the world to God. We have God on our side!