[In England & Wales today is the feast of the Ascension. As we celebrated it on the proper day, I go with the Gospel for the 7th Sunday in Easter which, as it happens, it very appropriate reading for the feast of the Ascension].
St Augustine comments that here Jesus begins by speaking not in metaphors but literally – he is preparing his followers for his bodily departure from this world. As the soul dwells in the body, but is not of the body, so too does the Christian dwell in this world without being of it.
Hilary of Poitiers sees verses 11-13 as a prayer, a gift of Christ to his church (something the Didarche confirms). His prayer, as ever, is for others.
Chrysostom, noting the Trinitarian nature of verse 11, explains that Jesus wants His followers to be one in the way the Trinity is. If we work with one mind and one heart, then the witness we make to the world will be great – if we do not, it will not.
St Athanasius reminds us that we become one with the Father as sons, not as the Son. We become ‘as gods’ – not as God. We are not the Father, we are called to be as merciful as him. It is in these ways we become one with the Father and the Son – we are not of the same substance with the Father and the Son, we are sons by adoption, by Grace; it is folly to think otherwise.
Sts Augustine and Leo tell us that Judas fulfilled Psalm 109, and by not persevering, he became a son of perdition and was lost.
The world hates those who look beyond it to God, Origen reminds us, but it is in the moment the mind stops thinking about the world that it will encounter God. Although of this world by generation, the disciples were taken out of it by their regeneration in Christ – as we are. As St Cyril remarks, the world is bound to hate Christ because it is in conflict with his words and refuses to accept his teaching; the flesh yields to temptation, and it will hate those who do not because they follow Christ.
As we cultivate a detachment from the world, we become more like Christ and become strangers to it, but, as St Cyril reminds us, like the Apostles, we stay in this world to spread the message and to help the Spirit bring people to Christ, and so, like them, we are covered by his prayer to the Father. Like his disciples, we should imitate him so that in time we become virtuous and worthy sons. Sanctification comes not just from the Spirit, but also from the Father and the Son, St Gregory of Nyssa notes. If we are sanctified by the Spirit we will, Chrysostom comments, hold the right and the true doctrine.
St Cyril’s commentary finishes by reflecting on the way in which Christ tells his disciples he will work to accomplish their salvation in God whether present or absent on earth. The Divine is not bounded by time and space.