I gave them your word, and the world hated them, because 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 any more than I belong to the world. (Jn 17:14-16)
In our Gospel reading for this 7th Sunday in Easter, Jesus declares that the word of God makes its disciples strangers to the world. Jesus does not mince words. He does not say that his followers “seem” to not belong to the world (i.e. because they are misunderstood). Jesus declares plainly, “They do not belong”. They are outsiders because of His word. And the world hates them.
Yet, Jesus does not pray to his Father that the world come to love (or even like) his disciples. Jesus knows that this is not possible since the hatred he speaks of is sown by the evil one who has only hatred for Jesus and his word (Mt 21:37-39). As we know well from the teaching of Jesus, the devil is always trying to snatch away the word from those who receive it (Mt 13:19). Therefore, the greatest threat to the disciples of Jesus is not human trial at the hands of the world, but instigation of the evil one and the loss of grace. Grace does not belong to the world; the word of God does not belong to the world. Neither do the disciples of word and grace.
In order to illustrate the meaning of this Sunday’s scriptural passage we place on our bulletin cover a work by the great Mannerist painter El Greco, entitled Christ Blessing (The Savior of the World – 1600). Domenikos Theotokopoulos was born and trained on the island of Crete where he mastered the 16th century Byzantine iconography. His study in Venice led to his encounter with Titian from whom he learned the contrast of light and dark; and Tintoretto by whom he gained his elongated form and canvas. His complete style was of course gilded in Spain where he became a spiritual painter of the Counter Reformation. It is in Toledo, Spain that he was given the name El Greco (“the Greek”).
In this masterful depiction of Jesus Christ we can see the admixture of all of El Greco’s experiences: the Pantocrator posture of iconography, the brilliant color of Titian, the elevated sense of Tintoretto, and the spiritual sense of the Spanish Catholic renewal. Jesus raises his right hand in a posture of blessing (and instruction) while he gently places the fingers of his left hand on a globe symbolic of the world He Himself created. Jesus is shown here as a friend and guardian of the world, a world that hated him and cast him out, yet which He still redeemed for the sake of all those who would not be its possession.
This spiritual image of Christ is a fitting reflection in our approach to Pentecost next Sunday. Here Jesus seems to say, “[You] do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world. Yet, for now I leave you in the world so that through My Spirit you may renew it.”
–Steve Guillotte, Director of Pastoral Services