In the Likeness of Men
Gospel Reflection for May 21, 2023, the Seventh Sunday of Easter - John 17:1-11
These things Jesus spoke, and lifting up his eyes to heaven, he said: Father, the hour is come, glorify thy Son, that thy Son may glorify thee.
As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he may give eternal life to all whom thou hast given him.
Now this is eternal life: That they may know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.
I have glorified thee on the earth; I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.
And now glorify thou me, O Father, with thyself, with the glory which I had, before the world was, with thee.
I have manifested thy name to the men whom thou hast given me out of the world. Thine they were, and to me thou gavest them; and they have kept thy word.
Now they have known, that all things which thou hast given me, are from thee:
Because the words which thou gavest me, I have given to them; and they have received them, and have known in very deed that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me.
I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them whom thou hast given me: because they are thine:
And all my things are thine, and thine are mine; and I am glorified in them.
And now I am not in the world, and these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep them in thy name whom thou has given me; that they may be one, as we also are. (John 17:1-11 DRA)
The Gospel reading for this Sunday (for those whose dioceses did not transfer the Ascension to today) is a powerful and enigmatic meditation on the mystery of Christ as true God from true God, the Son of God within the Trinity and united hypostatically to His human nature. These three roles or perspectives of Jesus have led to many errors throughout the centuries, from the time of the New Testament forward, and these errors have, like all evils He permits, been used by God for the good, to help the Church clarify her understanding of God as Trinity and Jesus as Son of God which were the greatest revelations and revolutions of the Gospel. Considered in an ancient Jewish context, to see a human being as God, or to see God as a Trinity of three divine Persons united consubstantially as a single Godhead, would have required an incredible leap of faith, one which many were unwilling to take. Today, many Christians remain confused on this subject, and it continues to divide Jews, Muslims, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and others from the true Faith. However, through the teaching of the Church, guaranteed by the authority of Christ given to her in the Holy Ghost, even this central mystery of the Faith can be properly understood.
For this reflection, there is not enough space to give a full treatment of the trinitarian and incarnational themes in Christ’s great prayer, and the Church has endless resources available to explore them, especially in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the works of the Fathers and Doctors. Instead, I would like to focus on one point: the instrumentality of Christ’s humanity for salvation. As the Church has always affirmed, God could have chosen any one of an infinite number of possible ways to save humanity, yet the one He chose was to do so “from within,” so to speak – to sanctify and divinize humanity, to unite it with Him and to destroy sin, by becoming human Himself. In so doing, God did not change in any way, since He is perfect and cannot increase or decrease within Himself; (Jas 1:17) rather, the human nature assumed by Him at the Incarnation was changed by being brought up into the divine life of the Trinity.
Having already received a body devoid of original sin from His Mother the Theotokos, the Son of God, the Word and Wisdom of the Trinity and the singular divine Person whose name is Jesus, corrected the fault of Adam by living as an ordinary human being, like us in all ways but without sin and defeating every temptation of Satan. (Heb 4:15) In this way, Christ became not only a model of perfect virtue unique in history for us to imitate, who obeyed the Law and consecrated the future Sacraments of the Church despite not needing their grace Himself, (Mt 3:15; Lk 22:15-16) but as the divine Son He overcame the full weight of temptation and suffering which no human could without sin, finally defeating death itself in His Resurrection. However, what makes the mission of Christ so profound and mysterious is that all of His works were accomplished through His humanity. He could not have forgiven sins, remained sinless, established the Church and her Sacraments or risen to become a new creation at His Resurrection without being God; yet, by doing all of these things with a human nature, He purified, sanctified and divinized humanity itself, so that now, participating in His mystical Body, we can become divinized with Him. Through His life, He made every good human action, from the most heroic to the most mundane, even the experiences of temptation, suffering and death, channels for divinizing grace.
This is the true mission of Jesus Christ and the purpose of Creation itself:
Who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men, and in habit found as a man. He humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross. For which cause God also hath exalted him, and hath given him a name which is above all names: That in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those that are in heaven, on earth, and under the earth: And that every tongue should confess that the Lord Jesus Christ is in the glory of God the Father. (Philip 2:6-11)
In this way, the prayer of Christ in this Gospel reading becomes clear: the Son of God was sent into the world to glorify the Father; in doing so, His true glory as God which He had “before the world was” is manifested, and He has given this glory to His Catholic Church by the wisdom of the Gospel by which we can come to know and thereby be conformed to Him. In our efforts to glorify God in our lives and lead the world to Him, may we keep Christ’s prayer ever in our hearts and on our lips: “Holy Father, keep them in thy name whom thou has given me; that they may be one, as we also are.”