Gospel of John, Chapter 17
Sun 08 May
I have done a little investigating, and discovered a treasure trove of information and commentary about our reading today from the Gospel of John, Chapter 17.
You will probably already be familiar with the distinction between the Gospel of John and the other three Gospels, and be familiar with the concept of the “Synoptic Gospels” – so that the Gospels of Matthew Mark and Luke are considered to be alike in their telling, and the Gospel of John stands on its own.
The absence in the Gospel of John of the same incidents or chronology found in the other three Gospels has spurred a debate which has, apparently, been ongoing for hundreds, if not over a thousand, years.
There are a variety of hypotheses which have been advanced to explain the difference between the Synoptic Gospels and the Gospel of John.
For example one is that John recorded many of the events that occurred before the arrest of John the Baptist, while the Synoptics record the start of Jesus’ Ministry beginning after his arrest.
Another is that John was written after the other three Gospels and with the intention of writing a spiritual gospel instead of an historical one.
Support for that hypothesis can be found in the prayers in chapter 17. The first prayer is a prayer that Jesus may be glorifed, the second prayer is to his disciples, and is a prayer for their protection after he is gone. The third prayer is a prayer for all believers, to God, for unity: “I pray that all of them may be one, just as you are in me and I am in you.
In the sequence of this Gospel, after saying these prayers, Jesus is arrested.
If we take the approach of Marcus Borg to the reading of the Bible, we can see this prayer as evidence of how the writer of this Gospel experienced God through the story of Jesus’ crucifixion and what the writer believed God would have said in that given context.
The second reading is also concerned with unity. It is one description of the Gaia hypothesis which is a lens which we can apply to consider nature, as it is found in all aspects of the composition of planet earth, the air, the water, the soil and the living creatures, and see all of those components as part of one intertwined, finite whole. And humans are only part of that whole.
The Gaia paradigm describes a productive confluence between scientific understandings of Earth as a living system with cultural understandings (ancient and new) of human society as a seamless continuum of that system.
The Gaia hypothesis as it is now being written, is recent, and its development stems from the work of a chemist, James Lovelock, in the last part of the twentieth century. It was James Lovelock who in developing the theory named it after the mythical Gaia who was the primal Greek goddess personifying the Earth, and the Greek version of Mother nature.
As an interesting aside it seems that the naming of this theory was suggested to James Lovelock by his neighbour, author and nobel prize winner William Golding, yes, he of “the Lord of the Flies”.
But the idea of the Earth as an integrated whole, and a living being, has a long tradition.
For example, Leonardo Da Vinci, said in 1490:
Just as man is composed of earth, water, air and fire, so this body of the earth is similar. Whereas man has bones within himself, the supports and frameworks of the flesh, the world has rocks, the supports of the earth. If man has within him the lake of blood wherein the lungs expand and contract in breathing, the body of Earth has its ocean, which also expands and contracts every six hours with the breathing of the world. As from the said lake of blood arise the veins, which spread their branches through the human body. Likewise, the ocean fills the body of the earth with an infinite number of veins of water.
I find it exciting that Pope Francis has written on this same theme in his Encyclical “Laudato Si on the care of our common home.”
He has taken the phrase Laudato Si from the canticle of Francis of Assisi which he refers to right at the beginning of his Encyclical. He says:
Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs”
I am quoting directly from the Encyclical now:
Francis of Assisi is the patron saint of all who study and work in the area of ecology, and he is also much loved by non-Christians. He was particularly concerned for God’s creation and for the poor and outcast. He loved, and was deeply loved for his joy, his generous self-giving, his openheartedness. He was a mystic and a pilgrim who lived in simplicity and in wonderful harmony with God, with others, with nature and with himself. He shows us just how inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society, and interior peace.
Francis helps us to see that an integral ecology calls for openness to categories which transcend the language of mathematics and biology, and take us to the heart of what it is to be human. Just as happens when we fall in love with someone, whenever he would gaze at the sun, the moon or the smallest of animals, he burst into song, drawing all other creatures into his praise. He communed with all creation, even preaching to the flowers, inviting them “to praise the Lord, just as if they were endowed with reason”. His response to the world around him was so much more than intellectual appreciation or economic calculus, for to him each and every creature was a sister united to him by bonds of affection. That is why he felt called to care for all that exists.
… If we approach nature and the environment without  openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs. By contrast, if we feel intimately united with all that exists, then sobriety and care will well up spontaneously. The poverty and austerity of Saint Francis were no mere veneer of asceticism, but something much more radical: a refusal to turn reality into an object simply to be used and controlled.
… What is more, Saint Francis, faithful to Scripture, invites us to see nature as a magnificent book in which God speaks to us and grants us a glimpse of his infinite beauty and goodness.
Today on Mother’s day, we celebrate our own mothers.
We can also celebrate mother earth and remember to cherish her, and we can pray for unity in our care for her, in the spirit of Jesus when he prayed for unity for all believers and when he said
“That all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you”.