John 14:7-14

If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

To my mind, the final line of this morning’s gospel is at once an indescribable consolation and a never-ending source of perplexity. Perhaps even frustration. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it. How many of us have been caught off guard or even startled by this phrase? Did he really just say what I think he said?

During the so-called “Farewell Discourses” of John’s gospel (chapters 14—17), we greet a host of similarly enigmatic phrases such as:

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?” “I do not give to you as the world gives.” “As the Father has loved me so have I loved you; abide in my love.”[1]

These dense discourses clearly deserve much more than a superficial listening. There is an infinity in these words, fertile and receptive to the whole texture of human experience. John’s Jesus therefore speaks to each of us in the voice of that wind as he says If in my name you ask for anything, I will do it. There is an infinity in his words.

Yet this infinity is lost to us if we simply hear what we would like to hear. Because of this, I believe there is wisdom in praying with a sensitivity to what a text is decidedly not saying. Yes, he really did just say something remarkable, but whereas I would like to hear Jesus say to me, “if you ask me for anything, I will do it,” this is not what Jesus says. We have to reckon with those three little words: in my name.

To pray in Jesus’ name: this is the often dark and hidden work of conversion. Let my joy be in you that your joy may be complete,[2] says John’s Jesus a chapter later, and Paul echoes this distantly when he writes let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.[3] This is the life-long invitation of repentance. When Jesus bursts onto the scene in Mark’s gospel, the word on his lips is metanoiete! Change your mind—that is, put on a higher mind.

The Spirit teaches us to pray in Jesus’ name, training us to love what Jesus loves and desire what Jesus desires—sometimes to the detriment of our own private desires, ambitions, or assumptions. To pray in Jesus’ name is to pray with the hopes that God will refine our desires. We find this expressed as the psalmist writes, “I will bless the Lord who gives me counsel; my heart teaches me night after night.”[4] We find this echoed in the spirituality of our prayer book: Make these words more than words, and give me the Spirit of Jesus. Amen[5]

It follows, then, that Jesus’ vexing consolation— If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it—, while infinite in its address to each of us, cannot mean a simple satisfaction of our private desire. It means a life-long, engaged response to God’s actions in our lives. Our late Brother Robert Greenfield gave this verbal expression in the “Outline of the Faith commonly called the Catechism.” Answering the question, “What is prayer?” Greenfield replies, “Prayer is responding to God, by thought and by deeds, with or without words”.[6] Prayer is responding to God.

And so, O Lord of promise, teach us to ask in your name; grant us grace to respond to your love, “make [our] words more than words, and give [us] the Spirit of Jesus.”[7]

Amen.


[1] John 14:6b, John 14:10, 14:27b, 15:9

[2] John 15:11

[3] Philippians 2:5

[4] Psalm 16:7

[5] The Book of Common Prayer, 461

[6] The Book of Common Prayer, 856

[7] Adapted phrase from a prayer “In the Morning,” The Book of Common Prayer, 461.

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