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Visions from The Catacombs: Week Before May 17, 2015


John 17:6-19

6”I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.

11And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. 12While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. 13But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. 14I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. 16They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.

17Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.

What I Am Learning:

What in the world is Jesus talking about in this passage in John?

Is he saying that somehow we don’t belong to the earth?

If true, then Jesus seems to be encouraging his disciples to a focus on life after death, on heaven rather than the earth. If Jesus wants us to focus on heaven and getting into it when we die, then we don’t have to focus on the earth at all. The only thing that matters is our eternal souls and those of others.

But this makes no sense.

From the perspectives in the Hebrew Bible the purpose of human beings in the creation stories is to care for the earth – to tend the garden. Sin could be understood as the refusal to do what we were created to do.

The covenant with the People of Israel was an attempt to restore people to their created purpose. When Jesus and John invite people to repent of their sins, they were inviting people to return to the covenant, to God’s intended purpose for human beings.

In John we see two uses of the word “world”:

  1. The creation which includes humans and human cultures
  2. The domination culture or worldview of Roman society

When Jesus tells disciples that they are “sent in to the world” or “for God so loved the world” and so on, Jesus is using the word in the first way: to refer to all of creation including human cultures.

When Jesus tells disciples that “they do not belong to the world” or tells Pontius Pilate “if my followers were from this world” Jesus is using the word in the second way: to refer to a worldview that is against God’s intention for human beings.

In John Jesus is the “word” through which all things are created. The author is saying that Jesus faithfully expresses or embodies the way God is, God’s character and therefore the humanity that God intended by creating us.

But the worldview of human beings did not know the word. Human beings in the first century became focused on a dog-eat-dog world, a winner-take-all world–what we call a domination culture.

Such a culture says that we are worthy humans to the degree that we have power over others. When we can’t win individually we take solace by joining with our nation or tribe and dominate another nation or tribe. Most Roman citizens were not individually wealthy, but they felt powerful when their armies won another victory.

We are like a computer that has been taken over by malware. Malware, once inserted into our computer systems, gives control of our computer, at least partially, to the malware authors. We still have lots of good software, but much of our processing power is being used for nefarious purposes. We see our computers slow down and become tools for infecting other computers.

We humans are so susceptible to the malware of a worldview of domination. Much of the language about “sin” in the Bible is not so much aimed at human “badness” as to the power of domination culture to influence and even determine what we do–it takes us away from the blessed life God intends for us and all people.

We humans are not, however, only victims of this software takeover. We do resist and reject our fragile human life and would, like the man and the woman in the garden, be like God than to be ourselves. This rejection is what we mean by the word “sin” as it applies to individual human beings.

But Jesus’ word, or the Word that Jesus is, has cleansed his disciples of the malware of domination. Now they no longer serve the nefarious purposes of a worldview of domination. They have been restored to their full humanity, to the image of God as revealed in Jesus. They are no longer “of the worldview” of domination even though they are in a culture primarily influenced by domination. They had been purged of the worldview of domination and could then live God’s way of mutuality in public.

Because human beings tend to think that our culture is the best ever (think of Nazi Germany’s belt buckle “Gott Mit Uns” God with us” here). So anyone who threatens or challenges culture is seen as a threat.

Jesus is not asking disciples to go out and be jerks, as some have suggested, but rather to live God’s way of mutuality in public. Others will notice that they are living out a very different worldview. This will be seen as a threat – and it is a threat to the way things are.

In this passage Jesus is not saying that the earth and its peoples are bad. He is not telling us to reject life in favor of life after it. In John 3 Jesus says that he was “sent into the world not to condemn the world but to save it.” Jesus knows that we humans are susceptible to a domination worldview and that this worldview enslaves us. He seeks to free us, to rescue us (the world save means “rescue”) from this enslavement.

If my Mac were infected with a virus, I would still love my Mac. I would try to free it from the virus.

Many of our human cultures are likewise infected with the malware of domination. We are what we produce, what we consume, what we own, who we beat… We just do it and don’t know why we do it. We are working more hours (average of 47 hours per work week). We have less time and energy for relationships and family and neighbors.

The malware of domination is running us.

But the Word become flesh is rewriting our software so that we can recognize our worth, our belovedness and the belovedness of all people, plants and animals.

We can take comfort in Jesus’ prayer for all his disciples, including us, as we are sent into the worldview of domination. We are sent, not to condemn the earth and its cultures, but to take part in God’s saving of people from a dog-eat-dog culture to one where the lion and the lamb lie down together.