BY: Bishop Gerald Musa

Acts of the Apostles 1:15-17, 20a, 20c-26; 1 John 4:11-16; John 17:11b-19

Lifting his eyes to heaven, Jesus prayed for his disciples when he was about to depart from the world. St. John says Jesus came to save the world, but he prayed especially for people who believed in him. He knew he was leaving his disciples in a world where there were many divisions among people (Christians vs. Muslims; Catholics vs. Protestants; North vs. South; Conservatives vs. Liberals, simply a world of ‘we and them’). Amid all these divisions among people, Jesus prayed for his followers to be a sign of contradiction in the world, by their unity and by remaining one indivisible entity, operating with one voice, one mind, one heart and one spirit; further, he wanted them to bring joy in a world that is full of sadness and sorrows; he wanted his followers to be delivered from the wiles of the evil one who prowls around like a roaring lion looking for people to devour. He said: “I do not pray that you should take them out of the world, but that you should keep them from the evil one;” he did not want them to be taken away from the world, but to conquer the world and overcome the challenges the world sets before them. They are to bring light to a world that is full of darkness; finally, he prayed to God to sanctify his followers in truth. This final petition was mentioned by Jesus in view of a world full of lies and deception, he wanted his disciples to be different, to be trustworthy people and people in whom there is no deception.


You would have noticed that within a short passage of 8 verses (John 17:11-19), Jesus mentions ‘the World’ 9 times. He said,
(i) “These things I speak in the world”
(ii) “The world hated them
(iii) They are not of the world,
(iv) “Even as I am not of the world”
(v) “I do not pray that you should take them out of the world”
(vi) “They are not of the world,
(vii) “Even as I am not of the world”
(viii) “As you sent me into the world” (repeats)
(ix) “So, I have sent them into the world” (repeats).

What does he mean by the world? Among the Jews, the world refers to the earth and among the Greeks, the world is called Cosmos, comprising of heaven and earth. In our local languages, the world is the earth, which is different from the heaven. For example, in Hausa, the world is Duniya (duka duniya- whole world) and in Igbo it is Uwa (uwa nine- whole world) and in Yoruba it is Aye (gbogbo aye – whole world). Jewish people differentiate between the world of men (earth) and the world of God (heaven).

Let’s get the meaning of the word ‘world’ clear. The world has various interpretations in the scriptures. On the one hand the word ‘world’ is used in the ordinary sense of the word, which scholars would call the denotative meaning. In this sense, the world is the universe created by God. For example, the book of Genesis tells us the world is the work of God’s hands and everything he made is good. In that same ordinary sense, the Gospel of John states: “God so loved the world, that he sent his only begotten son…” (John 3:16). On the other hand, ‘the world’ has another meaning, which we may call extraordinary meaning or connotative meaning. In this sense, the world is a reference to the kingdom of the Devil and Satan as prince of the world (John 12:31); the world also means those who are opposed to Christ and the values of the Gospel; further, the world is used as the material world in contrast with the spiritual world. Other words that are associated with ‘world’ are age and generation. For example, Jesus says, “The Children of this world (generation) are wiser than the children of light” (Luke 16:8). St. Paul talks about the rulers of this age, and the god of this age referring to worldly rulers and earthly gods (See 1 Corinthians 2:6; 2 Corinthians 4:4). And so, Jesus instructs his followers not to love the world, or be attached to the things of the world: “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15). In the farewell discourse of Jesus, the world is used in the second sense as that which is opposed to God. St. Augustine differentiates Christians from the rest of the people in the world when he says, as Christians, “We are in the world, not of the world.”

Jesus earnestly prayed for his followers to be in the world, but not of the world. This is the reason why he prayed for them to be sanctified in truth (John 17:17). To be sanctified in the truth means that they live in the spirit of truth. For God willed that all be saved and come to the knowledge of truth. He prayed to God to sanctify them, let them be good, let them be truthful, let them be holy. It is this sanctifying grace that will enable his disciples to grow in holiness and in the likeness of Christ who is truth. He asked the Father to sanctify them, which means to separate them from the wild and wicked world. Jesus wants his followers to be people of integrity, honest and truthful people who are rare gems.

To be sanctified by the truth means holding fast to the truth. We live in an age of deception. The prophet Isaiah says “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil (5:20). We have to be sanctified by the grace of truth to “Guard against eloquent preachers who preach empty and popular doctrines. St. Paul says, “By smooth words and flattering speech, they deceive the hearts of the simple (Romans 16:18). The Gospel of Luke warns, “Take heed that you not be deceived” (Luke 21:8). The world is desperately in search of good and truthful people. Are we ready to hold on to the truth in this age of deception?


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