What do you love about being at home? What constitutes a home for you? For some it’s the smell of fresh baking, or a warm fire. For some, it’s got little to do with a place and everything to do with particular people who provide comfort, security and love. one thing is pretty certain, though – for all of us home is about belonging, about being our true selves and about the freedom of loving and being loved. When the prayer of Jesus in John’s Gospel is read, the longing for home – for Jesus himself and for all people – cries out from every verse.
It’s pretty near impossible to read this week’s Gospel reading (John 17:1-11) without also thinking of Philippians 2:1-11. Here Jesus prays that God will glorify him with the glory he had “before the world began (Vs.5 NLT). In Philippians we are reminded of how Jesus laid aside his glory to “step into” human flesh. For Jesus glory is home – it is where he belongs, and where he is most connected into the Trinity and into his own true nature. Which leads us to investigate what this strange word really means. The word itself seems to range in meaning from something akin to “opinion” or “reputation,” to an “appearance” that attracts attention to “brightness”, “splendour” or “honour”. What all this refers to, though, can, perhaps, be best inferred from a brief interlude in Exodus 33. In verse 18 Moses asks God to show God’s glory to him. God’s response in verse 19 is telling: “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and I will call out My name, Yahweh, before you. For I will show mercy to anyone I choose, and I will show compassion to anyone I choose…” (NLT). God’s glory, then, can be understood as the revealed totality of God’s nature and purpose – which God defines, in this story, as mercy and compassion.
In Jesus then, God’s glory is hidden within the limitations of human flesh, and only revealed in limited ways at specific moments. God’s mercy and compassion, as much as they are revealed in radical and extravagant ways in Christ, are only fully manifested when Jesus is able to go beyond the limitations of human flesh – and this is the heart of his prayer in John 17. Jesus longs to be released from his limited capacity to show mercy and compassion, to return home to his true nature as divine Lover of all people. And he longs to draw all people into the circle of divine Love, into unity with God and with one another, such that the glory of God – the mercy and compassion of God – is multiplied throughout creation, like a feedback loop of divine love.
In John’s Gospel, of course, God’s glory is also inextricably linked with the cross, for it is here that God’s infinite mercy and compassion, God’s unconditional and irrepressible love, are revealed in all their unstoppable, limitless flow. Once God’s love is seen and known by gazing at Jesus on the cross, and once Jesus’ true nature as God is experienced through resurrection and ascension, God can only be understood as the Divine Lover who welcomes all of creation into the infinite embrace of compassion and mercy that has been shared through eternity by the Trinity. I hope that last sentence blew your mind!
This is why Jesus acknowledges the “authority” that God has given him over all people (literally “all flesh”). This authority is not about domination, or oppression, or condemnation. Rather, it is about giving eternal life (a favourite phrase of John’s) to all (Vs. 2) – bringing them into the home that is God’s glory – God’s mercy and compassion – and into the circle of love that is the Godhead (Vs. 3). And, of course, the ultimate evidence that we are truly “at home” in God’s glory, is that we should be one – together forming a circle of welcome and love that is a reflection of God’s all-inclusive love.
Jesus’ prayer reveals a longing for home – for himself and for us. Which leaves us with a searching question: where do we most naturally make our home? If we are most at home in the zero-sum “power-over” games of this world’s systems, we will feel like strangers in God’s glory. If we are most at home in closed, exclusive cliques, elitist religious institutions and isolated communities of those who are just “like us”, we will feel out of place in God’s glory. If we are most at home surrounded by the material luxuries of our world, in particular nationalities or places, or in the trappings of this-worldly success, we will find God’s glory to be an uncomfortable abode. If, however, we are willing to follow Jesus into the realm of unlimited compassion and mercy, if we are ready to find our home by opening the doors and windows of our lives to others, we will discover that we truly belong, no matter where we may be, or who we may be with. And once we have found a home in God’s glory, we become part of manifesting that glory throughout our world. As each new family member steps across the threshold into the circle of divine love, so the circle grows bigger, warmer and more radiant. What a home coming that is!