Chapter 17, from which we will read today, tomorrow, and the day after, is titled “The High Priestly Prayer” of Jesus. However, this may also be seen as a farewell hymn of praise to God. This farewell is not simply the death of Jesus, but is the “departure” from this world, a return to the Father, after completing the work entrusted to him. It is thus a prayer of thanksgiving and confidence. Since is the last prayer before the Passion Narrative, which begins in Chapter 18, it must also be interpreted with this in mind. The intimacy that Jesus shares with the Father shines through every sentence of the prayer. Jesus speaks in this prayer directly to God.
The prayer is divided into three parts. In the first (17:1-5), though it seems that he is praying for himself, what Jesus is really doing is giving thanks to the Father for his graciousness and love. In the second part (17:6-19), Jesus prays for his disciples and, in the final part of the prayer (17:20-26), Jesus prays for those who will believe because of the disciples preaching, i.e. future generations of disciples.
The prayer begins with Jesus adopting a formal posture of prayer, looking up to heaven, and addressing God as “Father”. On the one hand, this shows that Jesus now distances himself from his disciples and, on the other, indicates the intimate relationship that Jesus shares with God. The announcement of the “hour” at the beginning of the prayer points to the fact that the prayer will be directed to God, keeping this in mind. It is the “hour” of glorification because during it, Jesus will obey God completely, and in that obedience, God will be revealed and glorified. Jesus, as Son, has revealed God’s gift of eternal life to all who were willing to receive it. Jesus has completed this work on earth and now, he has to return to the Father in order to complete the work of glorification.
The work of glorification included making the name of God known to all. Jesus has revealed the Father as Father and God as a God of unconditional and bountiful love. The disciples have been able to see God revealed in Jesus and thus, have kept God’s revealed word. Since Jesus is not going to be in the world in the same way in which he was with the disciples, he prays for their protection. This protection is to be manifested in the oneness that the disciples will share to show those who do not yet believe, that Jesus has indeed come from God and is with God.
Prayer is not primarily words, but an attitude. This is what Jesus displays in his prayer. The manner in which one addresses God displays the relationship that one shares with him. “Father” was the most intimate term for Jesus to use and it shows the oneness that he felt with God. Each of us has to find our own intimate term with which to address God. It is important to realize that, after Jesus, God can never be looked at with fear or trepidation, but only with confidence, courage, and hope.
Prayer does not begin with “me” but with God and his glorification. However, the glorification of God is complete when love abounds, because where love is, there God is. The effect of our prayer has to be seen in tangible love, expressed in deeds, like it was in the life of Jesus.