05.16.2021 Seventh Sunday of Easter
Duccio di Buoninsegna
(c. 1260 - 1319)
'Christ Taking Leave of His Disciples'
Museo dell'Opera Metropolitana del Duomo - Siena
The ‘Maestà’ is an altarpiece composed of many individual paintings commissioned by the City of Siena in 1308 from the artist Duccio di Buoninsegna and is regarded as his most famous work. Though it took a generation for its effect to be truly felt, Duccio's ‘Maestà’ set Italian painting on a course leading away from the highly formal representations in Byzantine Art to more direct presentations of reality.
The picture illustrates one of the 26 narrative scenes from the Stories of the Passion, and is situated on the bottom row of the left hand side of the Altar Piece below the scene of the Betrayal by Judas.
Faithful to the narrative in the Gospel of Saint John, the scenes in the paintings follow one another from the bottom upwards: while Jesus is giving the new commandment to the Apostles (now eleven), Judas betrays him for thirty pieces of silver.
In ‘Christ Taking Leave of the Apostles’, the half-open door would appear to signify that Judas has already left the group, and this is in contrast to the closely knit group of disciples. The disciples are all facing the same way in thoughtful mood with the soft drapery of their coloured robes animating the whole scene. Duccio avoids the use of haloes on some of the disciples, since this would have had the effect of covering their companions.
John 17: 11-19
“Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and said: 11‘Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. 12While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.
13I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. 14I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. 15My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. 18As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. 19 For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified’”.
The text we read today contains the so-called “Priestly Prayer” of Jesus. The Lord has just finished offering the Last Supper and is about to accomplish his work as High Priest of the New Covenant. He raises his eyes to heaven to offer back to God what He had received from Him: his Disciples.
The words of Jesus sum up what his life and mission are all about:
1. The manifestation of his union with God the Father; and
2. His concern for His Disciples.
By making His prayer ‘aloud’, Jesus prepares his Disciples for a life without his physical presence.
He departs and equips the Disciples for Mission by giving them the protection, the courage, the wisdom and the fortitude that they need. At the same time, Jesus lets them know what He wants from them: that they remain united.
The “Priestly Prayer” of Jesus remained on in the memory of the Disciples until the end of their lives, and was recorded for all generations to come.
The Name of the Father
The words of Jesus are addressed to the God whom He identifies as His Father. Jesus takes upon himself the Holy Name of God. This was a scandal for the Jews of the time and was the reason for condemning Jesus to death. Christians did not hide the fact that they considered Jesus to be God. They received divine assistance from Jesus as they did from the Father.
Jesus as Protector
During his life, Jesus prepared His Disciples for the rejection and hatred they were to suffer. Many times, Jesus Himself defended them from the attacks of his enemies, and He came to their aid in times of difficulties, even if they showed themselves to have little faith.
In Chapter 10, Saint John uses the image of the Good Shepherd to express the idea that notwithstanding all He has done to take care of the Disciples, they can still refuse to listen to Him and thereby remain outside His grace. This was the fate of Judas who refused the friendship and company that Jesus offered him, although his sin was to serve God’s purpose to save the world.
The full measure of Jesus’ joy
The Last Supper may appear a very strange moment indeed to speak about the ‘joy’ of Jesus, given the conflict and the fate He was to face. The reason for the joy of the Disciples is that Jesus is praying for them. When Jesus prays for them, the Disciples are taken into the very life of the Trinity. There is no greater joy than being in the very heart of Trinity when Jesus prays for us to the Father: we are protected from danger, fear and anxiety.
The heart of the prayer of Jesus
The last of the petitions in the ‘Our Father’ is “Deliver us from evil”. The concern of Jesus for his Disciples in the “Priestly Prayer” is one and the same: that God protects them from the Evil One.
The Disciples have been endowed with power to overcome dissension and hatred, but it seems that Jesus is praying for God’s protection from something far more dangerous than persecution, namely the power of the Evil One. However powerful the Evil One may seem, Jesus has the power to overcome Him and sanctify the world through the sending out of his Disciples.
The Consecration of the Disciples
The word ‘consecration’ in the New Testament has two meanings and both of them apply to the Disciples of Jesus:
1. They have been set apart from the world for a purpose; and
2. Those consecrated have been equipped with the necessary tools to carry out the mission entrusted to them.
The objective of the ‘Priestly Prayer’ is therefore t
o equip the Church for the Mission Jesus entrusted to Her: to make present in the world the love of God, his sanctity, and the power of God’s Spirit.
Jesus prayed that his Good News would reach the ends of the earth and all peoples throughout history, so that the world might experience the joy, protection and holiness of God.
The will of God will never take you, Where the grace of God cannot keep you. Where the arms of God cannot support you, Where the riches of God cannot supply your needs, Where the power of God cannot endow you. The will of God will never take you, Where the Spirit of God cannot work through you, Where the wisdom of God cannot teach you, Where the army of God cannot protect you, Where the hands of God cannot mold you. The will of God will never take you, Where the love of God cannot enfold you, Where the mercies of God cannot sustain you, Where the peace of God cannot calm your fears, Where the authority of God cannot overrule for you. The will of God will never take you, Where the comfort of God cannot dry your tears, Where the Word of God cannot feed you, Where the miracles of God cannot be done for you, Where the omnipresence of God cannot find you.
“So that they may be one, as we are one”. As I look at our divided world, where not even those who believe in Christ are united, I join Jesus in this prayer, begging the gift of unity among Christians. I bring to my prayer any situation that needs healing and the overcoming of division, awared that I am joining my prayer to that of Jesus Himself.
Today, I hear Jesus praying for his followers – for me! I hear Him ask his Father for the three gifts of Joy, Protection and Holiness. I reflect on where, in my life, I need to use each of these gifts, which are now mine. I take time now to reflect on each gift, one by one, and I ask the Holy Spirit for guidance on where and how to use these precious gifts.
Jesus tells us that we too are ‘sent out’ to continue His mission. Friendship with Jesus is being with Him, and being sent out in His name. Our mission as His followers is in the midst of the world around us. He wants His message of love ‘inserted’ in our world: the city, the neighbourhood, the street where we live, ... . In following Him in His mission, we ourselves are sanctified. How do I experience this ‘being sent out’?
John's Gospel presents Jesus as the giver of divine life. He possesses the fullness of life in the Spirit. This is what he leaves to us in his Flesh and Blood, the Eucharist. Prayer unites us to the Sacrifice of Jesus who, all through His life, and not just at Calvary, gave Himself to us as teacher, healer, protector - but always as a loving friend.
 Genesis 35: 10: “God said to him, ‘Your name is Jacob, but you will no longer be called Jacob; your name will be Israel’. So he named him Israel”.  Luke 12: 4: “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more”.  Luke 5: 30-31: “But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, ‘Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?’ Jesus answered them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance’”.  Luke 8: 24: “He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. ‘Where is your faith?’”  Matthew 10: 28: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell”.  Jeremiah 1: 5: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations”. Exodus 28: 41: “After you put these clothes on your brother Aaron and his sons, anoint and ordain them. Consecrate them so they may serve me as priests”.  BARKLAY, William, “The Daily Study of the Bible. The Gospel of John”, 1975, p. 216: “And so God does not only choose a man for his special service, and set him apart for it, he also equips a man with the qualities he needs to carry it out”.