There are many ways in which 21st Century Americans have a hard time reading scripture formed over a thousand years, two thousand years ago. This Sunday, as we hear John's rendition of Jesus' High Priestly Prayer, we hear one of those sticking points.
"I pray (ask) not on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me..."
There is a tendency in modern theology to look at Jesus not just universally (i.e. he came to save us all/he saves us all/he will save us all), but, in fact, cosmically (i.e. he came to redeem all creation/the whole world).
So why does Jesus make it clear that this last prayer, this intimate moment between himself, his Father, and his disciples, this chance to ask for God's protection in his absence, isn't for the world? Doesn't God want to redeem everything and everyone?
Well, yes. But. In John's Gospel "the world" has very little to do with the planet earth and the plants, animals, and humans that dwell there-in. In John's Gospel "the world" is the stomping ground of Satan, the darkness that tries to overpower the light. The world is those powers and principalities that are corrupt, those systems that are oppressive. Jesus prays that his disciples and those who will come to faith through them, might be protected from the world whose desires are mutually exclusive from those of the Kingdom of God.
The danger comes when we hear this read on a Sunday morning, without education and without its original context. Too often, we hear that Jesus cares about me, but not about the world. Whole political machines have been based on this misunderstanding. Whole (a)theologies. Disasters happen when we hear the Scriptures and think we understand.
Jesus cares deeply for the world God created. His prayer is that it would be redeemed from the darkness and come into the light. His prayer is that the powers of the world might be overthrown so that the light of his Kingdom can shine. His prayer is that his disciples, namely us, might be protected from the infection of greed, sloth, anger, oppression, and corruption. Jesus asks that we might glorify him, and in doing so, bring the world back from the brink.