Father Donald Senior, CP

May 16: Seventh Sunday of Easter

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

What a Wonderful World

Acts 1:15-17, 20a, 20c-26; Ps 103:1-2, 11-12, 19-20; 1 Jn 4:11-16; Jn 17:11-19

Who does not like Louis Armstrong’s famed rendition of “Oh, What a Wonderful World”? The composer George Weiss said he wrote the song specifically for Armstrong “because of his ability to bring people of different races together.”

The lyrics are unfailingly bright and positive: “I see trees so green, red roses too; I see them bloom for me and you. And I think to myself what a wonderful world. I see skies so blue and clouds so white. The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night. The colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky; Are also on the faces of people going by. I see friends shaking hands saying how do you do. They’re really saying I love you.”

The song was composed in 1967 as the U.S. was becoming more engulfed in the Vietnam War and social discord. Because of this, one publisher turned down the song as too rosy.

This is my segue into the readings for today, particularly the selection from Chapter 17 of John’s Gospel. This chapter is one of the most exquisite in all of John’s Gospel. It comes at the conclusion of Jesus’ farewell discourse to his disciples on the eve of his passion. 

In the previous parts of the discourse, Jesus addressed his closest followers. But now, in this climactic passage, he speaks in prayer directly with his Father. He asks his Father to entrust his disciples with his own mission of revealing God’s love: “As you sent me into the world, so I send them into the world.” 

Jesus, the incarnate Word of God, now entrusts that same revealing word to his disciples: “I gave them your word.” Just as Jesus bears God’s sacred name throughout John’s Gospel, revealing a God of love, now he asks God to “keep them in your name.”

In this earnest prayer, Jesus also warns his disciples about the world: “The world hated them [the disciples] because they do not belong to the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world but that you keep them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world.”

John’s Gospel has a fascinating and complex view of the world. In John’s parlance, the world, or the cosmos in Greek, refers to the world of humanity. 

The Gospel begins by speaking of the world in positive terms: The world is God’s creation — God’s Word enters this world as if coming into “his own dwelling.” In one of the most famous passages of the Gospel, Jesus affirms, “God so loved the world that he sent his only son — not to condemn the world but to save the world!” 

Yet because the world is an ensemble of human beings, it is also capable of failure and enmity. The prologue of John’s Gospel notes that the world can say yes or no to God’s Word. Thus, the world at times “hates” Jesus and opposes him, just as Jesus warns the disciples will be their fate.

Neither Jesus nor his disciples are “of this world” in the sense they give themselves over to its worst inclinations. This is also what Jesus said to Pilate: “My kingdom is not of this world.”

The range of meanings in John’s Gospel describing the world reflect the authentic stance of the Christian mission. The disciples of Jesus are not to flee the world or simply despise it, because in fact God created the world, loves it and does not want to condemn it. But at the same time, there are toxic and seductive aspects of the world that can kill the human spirit: indifference, injustice, violence, a world devoid of love. The world is not simply the rosy place Louis Armstrong sings about.  

But “being sent as Jesus was sent” means not turning away from the world but caring for it, and working to uplift its beauty and nobility, telling the truth about its failings, and serving its needs. Being attentive, in Armstrong’s song, to the “bright blessed day and the dark, sacred night.”



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