On the evening of Aug. 3, 1996 in Atlanta, Ga., the "hour" of Canadian sprinters Donovan Bailey, Bruny Surin, Glenroy Gilbert and Robert Esmrie arrived. They did something no one had ever done before -- defeat a U.S. 4X100 metre men's relay team at the Olympics. It was a marvellous accomplishment, one which made a nation of 28 million people proud.
Almost 2,000 years earlier, the hour of Jesus Christ arrived. Jesus' hour was not his miracle of feeding 5,000 people, nor healing the man born blind, nor changing the water into wine at Cana. All of those hours were hints, precursors of the most important thing which was still to come.
For Jesus, the most important thing was his suffering and death. It was his passion -- his time of accepting suffering at the hands of others -- which revealed Jesus' full identity. It revealed not only that Jesus is God but also that God is self-emptying love poured out so his "friends" might share in eternal life.
In the eyes of the world, such an hour would be a defeat, a total humiliation. It would be a sign that the miracle worker had fallen from grace, had met an ignominious end. But in his prayer to the Father at the Last Supper, Jesus says his lonely, painful execution on a garbage dump will glorify God.
Jesus' prayer stands our human understanding of glory on its head. We see glory in terms of money, power and the roar of the crowd. We want control; Jesus surrenders control. We seek others' esteem; Jesus is glorified when he is beaten, mocked, left physically naked and has his limbs nailed to a tree. We exalt in our physical health; Jesus is triumphant when every last drop of blood has oozed from his body.
The glory here is God's love for humanity. For the cross is not only a sign of the love of a God who would atone for humanity's sins by his own death. It is, even more importantly, the embodiment of that love because through this unequalled act of charity, God shares his own life with us. "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life" (John 3:16).
We have traditionally thought of eternal life as going to heaven after we die. It is that, but it is also more. In his prayer, Jesus says this eternal life is "that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent" (John 17:3).
Further, this "knowing" of which Jesus speaks is much more than an intellectual process. My knowing a friend involves more than being able to list his or her qualities and to describe what that person is like. It involves our entering into communion with each other -- our joys and sorrows, goals and experiences become united.
Thus, eternal life is to be in total solidarity with God. My joys become united with the joys God has; my sorrows are united with those of God. God's goals are my goals. We spend much time together. Eternal life is God and me becoming thicker than thieves.
Jesus said, "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends" (John 15:13). Indeed, Jesus did lay down his life for us. And if we share in his eternal life, it would only be natural that we would be willing to lay down our lives for him.
The Prayer of the Hour of Jesus (John 17) is one of only a select few of Jesus' prayers where the content is recorded by the Gospels. It is, by far, the longest of Jesus' prayers in the Gospels. And it sums up the meaning of Jesus' life -- a life of self-giving love. In this prayer, Jesus passes on his mission of love to his church. From now on, Jesus' friends in all ages will incarnate the love shared between the Father and the Son. Jesus prays that we will be in God just as he is in the Father and the Father is in him.
This is a prayer for holiness, love and unity in the church so that the world will know Jesus has been sent by the Father. Alas, these qualities have often been lacking among Jesus' followers. We are often not the sign of self-emptying love Jesus would have us be. And as such, we make it more difficult for the world to know Jesus and to know his way of love.
But perhaps even more remarkable is that some of Jesus' friends have borne faithful witness. They have, even while on earth, lived in eternal life. They have lived lives which were towering examples of selfless love, not just for a moment here or there, but day in and day out.
These saintly men and women have had their "hours" too. And like the hour of Jesus, their hours were hidden and drew no great applause. Usually, they lived simple lives far away from the cultural centres and in contradiction to the expectations of the society of their time. They did this not to be quirky or different, but for the sake of love -- love of God and love of neighbor. And because of their love, many others have come to know Jesus.
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