Jesus’ prayer in the 17th chapter of John’s Gospel is that we would be as one. Unity! Let’s put this prayer in perspective. Jesus and his disciples gather in a small upper room. They gather there for one purpose: to share the Passover meal. They sing a few songs together, praise God, pray a lot, eat, and drink their wine. During this meal, Jesus institutes our sacrament of the Last Supper. He also washes the feet of the disciples. Jesus, after they finish with all of this, prays the John 17 prayer.
Jesus either prays this prayer right there in the room, upon completion of the other events shared, or he prays it as they walk towards the Garden of Gethsamene, where he prays some more while the disciples pass out under a tree from too much Passover wine. Jesus knows what is coming. He knows he’s going to be arrested, tried, and killed. How important is this prayer for unity in light of this foreknowledge? Seriously! Jesus, knowing full well death is imminent, prays first that these disciples find unity; the same unity that he shares with the Father.
I think we â€“ each one of us â€“ as followers of Jesus Christ, should be especially attentive to how we can bring unity into our sacred communities. This is not only for our own sake, but also for all of those watching us and interacting with us. Let us be one for the sake of Trinity. The Kingdom of God, and our friends and neighbors.
An entire section of this prayer is dedicated to us. Did you know that? It’s true. Jesus, right before he was arrested, tried, and killed, prayed for each one of us.
The Three Parts of the John 17 Prayer of Jesus of Nazareth: 1. The prayer concerning Jesus himself (17:1-5). 2. The prayer concerning the disciples (17:6-9). 3. The prayer concerning future believers (17:20-26).
Let’s focus on the third part of this prayer: the prayer concerning future believers. That’s us! Let’s read and look deeper at those six verses again, with this fresh understanding that Jesus literally prayed this for each one of us.
John 17:20-21: 20 I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
That we be one just as Jesus and the Father were/are one. What does that mean? Let’s think about this for a moment. We are talking about Trinity here friends. Trinity! Jesus and God the Father are one in Trinity. But before we start thinking that Jesus is suggesting that we all think and act exactly alike, let’s think about Trinity. Trinity is mutually indwelling equality. God the Father, Jesus Christ, and Holy Spirit are equals. Yes? They are equals. They are also, however, distinct. The persons of the Godhead are equals, but distinct in persons and function.
Three equal and distinct persons form what we call Godhead or Trinity. Being “one” therefore â€“ as Christ and the Father (and Holy Spirit) were/are one - does not mean we become robotic, cookie-cut Christians who can’t think as individuals. No! It means we come to grips with what it means to be a sacred community of co-existent equals who are very, very different, as regards functions and distinct expressions. We gather together in community and each one of us brings a different background, temperament, and interest. The point of community is not to mash all of those backgrounds, temperaments, and interests together for the sole sake of making us exactly the same. No! The point of community is the oneness we share with and within God, Christ, and Spirit, and the agreement we share regarding the Gospel.
John 17:22-23: 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. 24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
What is this glory of which Jesus speaks? The glory the Father gave Jesus and in turn Jesus gives to us can be seen clearly in Jesus’ victory over sin, death, and evil. Hebrews 2:9-10 agrees and reads: But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.
Each one of us, by sharing and participating in Jesus’ calling, participate in and share this very glory! We are united with Christ and we are subsequently united with God the Father. Together and united we strive to bring the re-created world into existence. We are partners with God in his re-creation project. Incredible!
John 17:24: 24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
Who is Jesus of Nazareth? Who is he? That’s the question this part of the prayer raises for you and me. Why? Jesus wants us to see him for who and what he really is! Yes, he visited us as one of us. We call this visitation â€œThe Incarnationâ€?. The Incarnation ended, however, in humiliation and death â€“ for our sakes. Jesus is so, so much more than the result of the Incarnation. Yes, he lived and he died, but he conquered sin, death, and evil for us in the process. He resurrected! Jesus is now the victor! Do we see â€“ do we really, really see â€“ this victory in Jesus? He prays right here that we do see.
John 17:25-26: 25 O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.
This part of the prayer places the Christian’s priority squarely on our intimate experience or personal relationship with God. When Jesus speaks of God the Father, it is always - always - based upon an intimate relationship shared, rather than abstract, philosophical speculation. Jesus was not a religious philosopher; he was a person involved intimately and relationally with his Abba God. Jesus, right here, prays that we too would relate to the Father intimately, not speculatively.
Gen. Omar N. Bradley in a 1948 Armistice Day address, said this:
We have too many men of science, too few men of God. We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living.
He’s right, isn’t he? How could we argue otherwise, given the state of thing in the world you and me live in? Spirituality is at an all time high in our country â€¦ yet we live daily with more than a few of highest crime rates in the world. We let children go hungry. We fail to provide people with the basic necessities of life: food, clothing, shelter, and medical care. We go on building a nuclear arsenal already capable of blowing up the whole world seven times. Injustice, in our land, is used as a tool for political leverage. Yet, in spite of all of these things, we talk about God and spirituality so, so much. But it is speculative chatter â€¦ what we need is for people to get involved with Jesus’ Father God on an intimate and relational level.
Does this mean we cannot be religious philosophers or think about the characteristics of our God in abstract, philosophical manners? No! I hope not! If this were so, I’d have to dump half of the books shelved in my personal library. What it does mean is this: Christians can not start there! Said differently, disciples of Jesus Christ should operate theologically and philosophically from an expression rooted deeply first and foremost in a intimate and personal relationship with God. Philosophy should proceed from this relationship - and trust me it will.
Jesus prayed for as much right here in this verses 25-26.
Christians, we should be one in unity. We should be united as one as Christ Jesus was united as one with God and Spirit. Our template for our church communities should be rooted in Trinity. Trinity is the priority for our community. So, as you scour the Barnes & Nobel for the next great church model, do try and remember Trinity and give the John 17 prayer of our Lord and Teacher some serious consideration.