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Jesus Christ, the Son Sent by the Father

General Audience — June 24, 1987

—    The priestly prayer

In the previous reflection we dealt with the prologue of John's Gospel, when speaking of Christ as Logos, Word and Son of God. The prologue expresses beyond all doubt the essential nucleus of the truth about Jesus Christ, a truth which forms the central content of the self-revelation of the God of the new covenant, and as such is solemnly professed by the Church. It is faith in the Son of God, who is "one in being with the Father" as the eternal Word, eternally "begotten," "God from God and Light from Light," in no way created (or adopted). The prologue also reveals the truth about the divine pre-existence of Jesus Christ as the "only-begotten Son" who is "in the bosom of the Father." It sets out clearly the truth about the coming of God the Son into the world to carry out a special mission on the part of the Father--"the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us" (Jn 1:14). This mission (missio Verbi) has an essential importance in the divine plan of salvation. It contains the supreme and definitive implementation of God's salvific plan in regard to the world and the human race.

The whole New Testament expresses the truth of the sending of the Son by the Father. This truth is made concrete in the messianic mission of Jesus Christ. In this regard, of particular importance are the numerous texts of John's Gospel to which we must first of all refer. Speaking to his disciples and even to his adversaries, Jesus says, "I proceeded and came forth from God; I came not of my own accord, but he sent me" (Jn 8:16). "I bear witness to myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness to me" (Jn 18:18). "He who sent me is true, and him you do not know. I know him for I came from him, and he sent me" (Jn 7:28-29). "For the works which the Father has granted me to accomplish, these very works which I am doing, bear me witness that the Father has sent me" (Jn 5:36). "My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work" (Jn 4:34).

1.  The priestly prayer

As is seen in John's Gospel, Jesus often speaks of himself in the first person as one sent by the Father. In a special way, the same truth will emerge in the priestly prayer, where Jesus, recommending his disciples to the Father, emphasizes, "They...know in truth that I have come from you; and they have believed that you have sent me" (Jn 17:8). And continuing this prayer on the eve of his passion, Jesus says, "As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world" (Jn 17:8). As though referring directly to the priestly prayer, the first words addressed to the disciples on the evening of the day of the resurrection are, "As the Father has sent me, even so I send you" (Jn 20:21).

If the truth about Jesus Christ as the Son sent by the Father is set out clearly especially in the Johannine texts, it is also contained in the Synoptic Gospels. There we see, for example, that Jesus said, "I must preach the kingdom to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose" (Lk 4:43). Of particular importance is the parable of the wicked tenant farmers. They badly treated the servants sent by the owner of the vineyard "to get from them some of the fruit of the vineyard," and they killed many of them. Finally, the owner of the vineyard decided to send to them his own son, "He had still one other, a beloved son; finally he sent him to them, saying, 'They will respect my son!' But those tenants said to one another, 'This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.' And they took him and killed him, and cast him out of the vineyard" (Mk 12:6-8). Commenting on this parable, Jesus recalls what was written in Psalm 118 about the stone rejected by the builders. It was this very stone that became the head of the corner (that is, the cornerstone) (cf. Ps 118:22).

The parable of the son sent to the tenants of the vineyard is recorded by all the Synoptics (cf. Mk 12:1-12; Mt 21:33-46; Lk 20:9-19). The truth about Jesus sent by the Father clearly emerges from this parable. Indeed, it emphasizes rather graphically the sacrificial and redemptive character of the mission. The Son is truly "he whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world" (Jn 10:36). Thus God not only "spoke to us by a Son...in these last days" (cf. Heb 1:1-2), but he has given for us this Son, in an act of incomprehensible love, by sending him into the world.

In these terms John's Gospel also speaks in a particularly moving way, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that, whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (Jn 3:16). And he adds, "God sent his only Son into the world, as the savior of the world." Elsewhere John writes, "God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins." Therefore he adds that in accepting Jesus, his Gospel, his death and resurrection, "we know and believe the love God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him" (cf. 1 Jn 4:8-16).

St. Paul expresses the same truth in the Letter to the Romans: "He (God) did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all; will he not also give us all things with him?" (Rom 8:32). Christ was "given" for us, as we read in John 3:16; he was given in sacrifice "for us all" (Rom 8:32). The Father "has sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins" (1 Jn 4:10). The creed professes this same truth: "For us men and for our salvation (the Word of God) came down from heaven."

The truth about Jesus Christ, as the Son sent by the Father for the redemption of the world, for the salvation and liberation of those who were prisoners of sin (and therefore of the powers of darkness) constitutes the essential kernel of the Good News. Jesus Christ is the "only Son" (Jn 1:18), who, to carry out his messianic mission, "did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men...and became obedient unto death" (Phil 2:6-8). In this situation freely accepted by him as man, as the servant of the Lord, he proclaimed, "The Father is greater than I" (Jn 14:28) and again, "I always do what is pleasing to him" (Jn 8:29).

This very obedience to the Father, freely accepted, this submission to the Father, in opposition to the "disobedience" of the first Adam, remains the expression of the most profound union between Father and Son, a reflection of the trinitarian unity: "I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father" (Jn 14:31). Indeed, this union of will for the salvation of man reveals definitively the truth about God in his intimate essence--love. At the same time it reveals the original source of the salvation of the world and humanity, the "life which is the light of men" (Jn 1:4).