The Great Lent & the Holy Pascha
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Contemplation on John 17, Part II
by H.H. Pope Shenouda III
This is a message to priests and servants, and to us all, on the evening of Holy Thursday.
In the soliloquy between the Lord Christ and God the Father, He said to the Father, “I have glorified You on the earth”, and, “ I have finished the work which You have given Me to do “(Jn.17: 4) The Lord Christ has not glorified the Father by words, but by action.
He gave us an example that glorification should be by action not by tongue, as He said, “ My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me “ (Jn.4: 34) and repeated this saying frequently, as in (Jn.6: 38). In the above verse also He said, “ I have finished the work You have given Me to do”
He did not say: I have done it, but said, “ I have finished.” It means that He was perfect in doing His work and in carrying out the father's will. With all perfection He made the people know the Father's will. And on the cross He said about redemption, “It is finished.” (Jn.19: 30)
And you, can you say the same words to the Lord, “I have finished the work which You have given (Me) to do”? Even if you say: I have finished it, certainly you do not mean that you have attained the perfection with which the Lord Christ has done the Father's will. Probably you want to say: You started the work, O Lord, by Your grace, and I finished it.
With my own knowledge I can do nothing, as You have said, “without Me, you can do nothing” (Jn.15: 5), and as Your apostle St. Paul said, “For it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Phil.2: 13). You, Lord, paid for me that I may work, and I have finished the work by You also. Or rather, You, O Lord, have finished this work yourself, but due to Your humbleness, You ascribed it to me.
It is Your continual kindness which makes You ascribe the work You do to Your children. You gave us the Law and the Commandments, yet You always say, “the law of Moses” (Jn.7: 23); “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives” (Mt.19: 7,8). It is You, O Lord, who has given the commandment and the permission, but You ascribe what You do to people. Likewise, You permit one of Your martyrs or saints to work a miracle whereas the power is Yours. I would, O Lord, rather say,
The work You gave me to do, I took part with You in completing it. I entered into communion with the Holy Spirit (2 Cor.13: 14) so that Your Spirit may work in me, with me, or through me. As St. Paul the apostle said about himself and his companion Apollos, “We are God's fellow workers” (1Cor.3: 9), “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase” (1Cor.3: 6,7) If this is the work which two great saints like Paul and Apollos have done, what can any of us say?
One should say: the work You gave me to do, You finished it, and I was merely an instrument in Your hand. Indeed, “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but to Your name give glory” (Ps.115: 1). Who am I to say that I completed some work, whatever it is? It is You who starts, and You who finishes. It is You who gives the intent, the will, and the power, and works with Your servants in every good work. These words of Christ mean complete honesty in work and in life:
What then is the work given us by God? Part of it relates to Yourself, that you may sanctify yourself to God. The other part relates to others that you may lead them to God.
Thus the words of St. Paul the apostle to his disciple Timothy apply to such work: “Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you” (1Tim.4: 16) This is the work given you by the Lord; yourself and the doctrine. Are you truly faithful to these two responsibilities: perfection in all you life responsibilities; and perfection in your ministry? Have you completed your responsibilities, whether family, personal, study, social or work responsibilities? Have you done all this and at the same time have not neglected your spirituality and private life with God?
A high example of this is Joseph the Righteous: With regard to his own self, he was careful, and faithful to his chastity, so he said, “How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God” (Gen. 39:9) And with regard to the service of others, Joseph was perfect, because he brought life to all people in his days. His work as Minister of Supply in Egypt was given him by God, “to preserve life” (Gen.45: 5). He was also perfect in his work in Photiphar's house, “and whatever he did, the Lord made it prosper” (Gen.39: 23), and also in the prison. True then what the first psalm says about the righteous person, “whatever he does shall prosper” (Ps.1: 3). But mere success in life is not sufficient, but perfection is necessary in whatever one does.
Furthermore, have you fulfilled your obligations towards your family? Not only the social obligations are meant, but the spiritual as well. What have you done concerning God's commandments of which He said, “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house” (Deut.6: 7)
Now, we come to the work given us by the Lord in the field of ministry, and remember some details indicated by the Lord Christ concerning the work He has finished. He said: “I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world. They were Yours. You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word” (Jn.17: 6) So many are those who the Lord Christ talked to about the Heavenly Father, and about His care and love, as the word “Father” is frequently repeated by His mouth in the Gospel.
Have you also manifested God's name to the people? I fear you feel ashamed sometimes of mentioning His name, or hide yourself when it is mentioned! On the contrary, David the prophet said, “I will speak of Your testimonies also before kings, and will not be ashamed.” (Ps.119: 46). I an proud of You, O Lord, and Your name is my meditation and my sweet song “I will lift up my hands in Your name. My soul shall be satisfied as with narrow and fatness” (Ps.63: 4,5)
Your name, O Lord, is the core of my preferred talk with people. I find pleasure in speaking to them about You.
Whenever I meet people or visit them, Your name comes on my tongue. How I love Your name! It is my meditation all the day (Ps.119: 55,97). I manifest Your name to the people because I love You and I love them, and I want them to love You. Many people in their meetings or visits speak of many subjects on the society and its problems. God alone is not the subject of their talk! Would that people mention or remember God's name in their problems so that they get from Him solutions!
The example of David the Prophet and the valiant Goliath: All people were speaking about that valiant champion, describing his height, his armor and weapons, his threats that frightened the army, and the promise of the king to reward whoever kills him (1Sam. 17). In all this no one mentioned God's name! Then the youth David came and manifested God's name to the people and to Goliath in a way full of faith. He said, “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1Sam.17: 26,36) And when King Saul warned him that it would be difficult for him to fight Goliath because he was a youth whereas Goliath was a man of war from his youth, David told the king how God had helped him when he was attacked by a lion and a bear. Then he said, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine” (1 Sam.17: 37) David then drew near the Philistine and said to him, “You come to me with a sword, with a spear, and with a javelin. But I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts… This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you… that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel” (1Sam.17: 45,46) David repeated the name of the Lord, “Then all this assembly shall know that the Lord does not save with sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord's, and He will give you into our hands” (1Sam.17: 45-47) Thus David manifested the Lord's name, and conquered with His name because the battle was the Lord's.
Due to the importance of the Lord's name, we start with it our prayers in the Lord's Prayer: The Lord Himself taught us that the first request in our prayers be “Hallowed be Your name”. How can His name be hallowed through us? This happens by manifesting Him to the people in His sublimity, holiness, perfection, power, in His wonders and miracles, and in His love and care for us.
This sweet name of the Lord we mention in our Praise Songs, saying: “Your name is sweet and blessed on the mouth of Your saints.” And the Psalmist says about it, “I remember Your name in the night, O Lord” (Ps.119: 55) However, the matter is not just to manifest God's name to the people, but there is something important: We should manifest God's name to people in a way that makes them love Him. We should make them love His ways and follow them, and keep His commandments, as the Lord said, “I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them” (Jn.17: 26); “ I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me… and they have kept Your word”(Jn.17: 6).
Those whom the Father has given The Lord Christ: Who are those given the Lord by the Father? As if the Lord says: Everyone You put in my way I manifested Your name to him. Everyone You permitted to meet with Me or come to Me, not only the twelve, My own whom I loved to the end (Jn.13: 1), but also the multitudes on the mountain, the crowd, Zacchaeus the tax-collector who climbed up the sycamore tree (Lk.19: 4), Nicodemus who was afraid of the Jews (Jn.3: 1,2), and Martha who was worried and troubled about many things whereas one thing only is needed that is You (Lk.10: 41), to all those I manifested Your name.
It is a lesson to every minister, to manifest God's name to the people, all people everywhere; not only in Jerusalem and all Judea, but also in Samaria and to the end of the earth (Acts1: 8), far to the Gentiles (Acts22: 21). “As you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome” (Acts23: 11). Your work then is to manifest God's name to the people, but beware! From what should you be aware? Beware lest your works cause People to blaspheme the good name you manifest to them! Beware when you manifest God's name to the people not to be yourself away from Him! Hearken what St. Paul the apostle says blaming the Romans,” the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” (Rom.2: 24).
You should therefore let God's name be manifested not merely through words, because people are not influenced by words not representing a life attached to God. In this respect St. John the apostle said, “In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest”(Jn.3: 10).
Let me now put an express question: How many people have known God's name through you? And how many have loved God's name through you? What is the fruit of your ministry? How many people you let know His name and led in His ways? How many people remember God's name when they remember their meeting with you, especially those who had no previous relationship with God, of whom the Psalmist says, “They have not set God before them”(Ps.54: 3)
Thus you are not merely requested to manifest God's name to people, but to keep them in His name. In other words you have to follow up God's work in their lives that they may have His love in them, that love with which He loved you, and that none of them may be lost.
Not only has the Lord Christ manifested God's name to the people and kept them in His name, but He also prayed for them: “Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me” (Jn.17: 11).He prayed to the Father to keep them through His name and not let them depart from it. He said the same on another occasion about His sheep, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish… and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father's hand”(Jn.10: 28,29).
And you, do you do the same for those whom God gave you? Do you pray for them? Do you offer burnt offerings as Job the Righteous had used to do continually for his children? (Job1: 5) Brother, do this and you shall live.
Those you are given by the Lord are His children, and they belong to Him. As the Lord Christ says, “They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word.”(Jn.17: 6) But who are they? Are they only your household? Nay, for God has given you also friends, colleagues, acquaintances, neighbors, and many others. Have you ever felt ashamed of mentioning the Lord's name to them? What for? Have you thought that His name might cause distress to those who like to have fun and amusement? Nay, His name just awakens them. And your role is to put seeds in the ground, whatever type of ground, even that with thorns, or that which has no depth therein (Mt.13), who knows? Perhaps your seeds may find good ground and give fruit. Put always before you the words of the Lord, “I have manifested Your name to the men You have given Me”; “I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” May the Lord be with You, in your talk, in your ministry, and in whatever seeds you put in the ground! May He say to you: “Blessed shall be ……the produce of your ground” (Deut.18: 4).
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