“May they become perfectly one”
Acts 7:55-60; Rev 22:12-14, 16-17, 20; Jn 17:20-26
Today’s gospel passage is part of what is often called Jesus’s “priestly prayer” of Jesus, because he is pictured as praying for his apostles. This prayer spans the entire chapter 17 of John’s gospel. It is the longest recorded prayer of Jesus. He prayed this prayer ALOUD at his last supper meal with his disciples. This prayer most clearly reveals the heart and mind of Jesus – who and what he loved most – love for his Father in heaven and love for all who believe in him.
1. JESUS PRAYS FOR US, HIS DISCIPLES
One of the greatest privileges and responsibilities we have been given by God is to pray not only for ourselves, but for others as well. The Lord Jesus lived a life full of prayer, blessing, and gratitude to his Father in heaven. He prayed for his disciples, especially when they were in great need or danger. Mark tells us in his Gospel account (see Mk 6:46-51) that when Jesus was praying alone on the mountain he saw that his disciples were in great distress due to a life-threatening storm that was beating against their boat. Jesus immediately came to their rescue – walking on the waves of the rough waters before he calmed their fears and calmed the raging waters as well. Luke records in his Gospel account the words of Jesus to Simon Peter shortly before Jesus’ arrest and Peter’s denial of the Lord three times. “Simon, Simon! Look, Satan has got his wish to sift you all like wheat; but I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail, and once you have recovered, you in your turn must strengthen your brothers.”(Luke 22:31-32). Jesus’ prayers were personal, direct, and focused on the welfare and well-being of others – especially that they might find peace and unity with God and with one another. In order to understand the prayer that Jesus makes in today’s gospel, we need some knowledge of what Jesus’ impression about his disciples was.
2. HOW JESUS VIEWED THE DISCIPLES
In Jn 17:6-10, Jesus gives his personal description of his disciples. “I have revealed your name to those whom you took from the world to give me. They were yours and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now at last they have recognized that all you have given me comes from you for I have given them the teaching you gave to me, and they have indeed accepted it and know for certain that I came from you, and have believed that it was you who sent me. It is for them that I pray. I am not praying for the world but for those you have given me, because they belong to you. All I have is yours and all you have is mine, and in them I am glorified.”
Notice what Jesus says about them: “they are special gifts from the Father; they have been obedient; they were accepting of the truth; they were certain of His (Christ’s) nature; they brought Him glory”. This is certainly quite a positive description! Imagine what Jesus could have prayed: “Lord, thank you for these disciples. But you know how dull they are. Help them to understand what I am trying to tell them. Help them to remain faithful, I know how they are prone to run away when the trouble comes, etc.” In truth, Jesus knew what was ahead. He knew about the upcoming denials. In fact, He warns Peter that he will deny him three times before the cock crows. Yet, in spite of this knowledge, none of this is included in the prayer. It is all positive. Note also that Jesus said this prayer ALOUD! He wanted the disciples to hear him. He wanted them to know how he felt and how committed he was to them. He wanted them to be joyful (Jn 17:13).
Can you imagine how these words spurred on the disciples in their difficult days? When they felt like giving up, would not those words have helped them keep going? One can hear them saying: “The Savior believes in us!” “The Lord is counting on us!” Evidently, Jesus knew exactly what He was doing. He wanted to encourage rather than discourage. He wanted to spotlight their potentials not their failures. He wanted his disciples to look forward, not backward. This is the way Jesus looks at us. The Lord sees what we CAN BE. He sees the potential and rejoices at what he can do through you and me. While we are wallowing in self-pity over present difficulties, Jesus celebrates our future victories. While we are dragged down by past sin, Jesus is rejoicing over our future faithfulness. We often sing, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”, but do we really believe it? Most people are painfully aware of their failures. A good friend is one who spurs you on; who calls you forward. With this impression about us, his disciples, we can go on to seek to understand Jesus’ prayer in today’s gospel.
3. JESUS PRAYS FOR ALL CHRISTIANS TO BE UNITED AS ONE
The portion of Jesus’ prayer in today’s gospel focuses on the love and unity he desires for all who would believe in him and follow him, not only in the present, but in the future as well. Jesus prays, also, for all men and women who will come after him and follow him as his disciples (John 17:20). In a special way Jesus prays here for each one of us that as members of his body, the church, we would be one as he and his Father are one. The one request that stands out (because it is repeated three times!) is that his followers be united as One. We are not called to CREATE UNITY. We are called to MAINTAIN it. However, before we can maintain the unity that comes from being related to each other in Christ, we must repair some of the damage that has been done down the years of history.
The first reason for unity is Love. (Jn 17:21 & 23). The world may find it difficult to understand or believe in Jesus but they cannot argue if they find love among believers, followers of Jesus. The greatest tool of the spread of the gospel is the love we show for each other. People understand the love of God when they see that love manifested in Jesus’ followers. That should not surprise us. Who would want to enlist in an organization that is riddled with trouble? People are looking for answers, not more problems. The world is confused by the church today. However, while seeking this unity, we must remind ourselves of three important cautions regarding unity:
a) Unity must never be at the expense of truth. We are NOT all headed in the same direction. Only those who look to Christ as Savior are really our brothers and sisters in the faith.
b) Unity does not mean ignoring controversial issues. We must not ignore those areas on which we disagree. However, the attitude in which we carry on our debate must be one of love: first for God, second for each other. The process of discussion and debate is what sharpens and deepens us, even if we never convince each other to change positions.
c) “Unity” is not the same as “Uniformity”. We are not called to be “the same”; we are called to be “one”. Variety is valuable. In many cases the issue does not boil down to who is “right” and who is “wrong”. Many issues are simply a matter of personality and preference. Note that being “Different” means “
4. STEPS TO BUILDING UNITY
a) As Christians, we should Celebrate what we hold in common.
There are some ABSOLUTES, those things that are basic and essential to the Christian faith. Although there are no universally agreed absolutes between all Christians, a good place to begin is 1Cor 15:3-6: “The tradition I handed on to you in the first place, a tradition which I had myself received, was that Christ died for our sins, in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried; and that on the third day, he was raised to life, in accordance with the scriptures; and that he appeared to Cephas; and later to the Twelve; and next he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still with us, though some have fallen asleep.” (1 Cor 15:3-6).
The items listed in the text above are of “first importance”, and could be a starting point of our common belief as Christians.
• the God-nature of Christ (implied)
• the reality of sin and judgment (implied)
• the Sacrificial Death of Christ for our sins
• the bodily resurrection of Jesus
• the inspiration and authority of Scripture
The first reason for unity is Love. (Jn 17:21 & 23). The world may find it difficult to understand or believe in Jesus but they cannot argue if they find love among believers, followers of Jesus. The greatest tool of the spread of the gospel is the love we show for each other. People understand the love of God when they see that love manifested in His followers. That should not surprise us. Who would want to enlist in an organization that is riddled with trouble? People are looking for answers, not more problems. The world is confused by the church today. However, while seeking this unity, we must remind ourselves of three important cautions regarding unity:
• Unity must never be at the expense of truth. We are NOT all headed in the same direction. Only those who look to Christ as Savior are really our brothers and sisters in the faith.
• Unity does not mean ignoring controversial issues. We must not ignore those areas on which we disagree. However, the attitude in which we carry on our debate must be one of love: first for God, second for each other. The process of discussion and debate is what sharpens and deepens us, even if we never convince each other to change positions.
• “Unity” is not the same as “Uniformity’.We are not called to be “the same” we are called to “be one”. Variety is valuable. In many cases the issue does not boil down to who is “right” and who is “wrong”. Many issues are simply a matter of personality and preference. Note that being “Different” means “
Outside these, Christians may have different INTERPRETATIONS, that is, those things which they conclude, those things that they hold which are not based on any specific text of Scriptures. These are things based on experience, culture, and feelings. If the division is over the core absolutes of the faith, then we must divide. But we must show respect for one another. St. Augustine once said it well: “In Essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty; in all things charity.”
b) In this light, Christians of various churches must respect credible differences in interpretation. We should respect the differences others have. We must learn that the person on who calls us if Jesus; it is not us. We can learn and have our own faith reinforced by listening to those who differ from us.
c) Thirdly, we should speak positively of members of Households of God. In our desire to promote our own beliefs and churches we have a strong tendency to belittle and criticize others publically. This should not be done. Those people represent the same Lord. They are family. When they are ridiculed, a member of our family is being attacked. We must make a conscious effort to be encouraging, supportive and positive, rather than negative and slanderous. That is Jesus’ approach to his disciples. We must refuse to be party to divisive conversations.
d) Finally, Christians should pray for one another. Jesus recommended this for all his followers and he did for us, as an example. True, it is generally difficult to pray that God should work in and through another church, because we want to be at the center. But we must always keep the goal in mind that we want to bring Christ to our ‘community’ not just to our ‘church’! Jesus speaks practical words. There is much at stake. It is true that we need to help each other stay on the “correct road”. At times we need to rebuke and correct. But this should always be done in love, not arrogance.
5. TO MAKE HIM KNOWN AND LOVED BY ALL
Jesus’ prayer on the eve of his sacrifice shows the great love and trust he had for his beloved disciples. He knew they would abandon him in his hour of trial, yet he entrusted to them the great task of spreading his name throughout the world and to the end of the ages. The Lord Jesus entrusts us today with the same mission – to make him known and loved by all.
Today, we also commemorate the Feast of Mary, the Principal Patron of Cameroon. May we ask the mother of Our Lord to pray for us, so that we may remain true witnesses in whatever we do and say, and so make Jesus known and love by all. May she who is mother of God, pray for us sinners, that we may remain one, now and at the hour of our death! Amen.