The farewell discourse of Jesus at the Last Supper ended with a prayer to the Father. It had a didactic message to the apostles present. His prayer was for the apostles and for his future followers. So, we are all included in this prayer. The principal theme of the prayer was unity and mutual love of Christians. Just as the Son and Father are one in love, we also need to love one another and remain in God’s love. Let us apply this in our families, community, parish, and church at large.
(John 17:20) I pray not only for these but also for those who through their word will believe in me. (21) so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I am in you. May they be one in us, so the world may believe that you have sent me. (22) I have given them the glory you gave to me, that they may be one as we are one, (23) I in them and you in me. Thus they shall reach perfection in unity so that the world shall know that you have sent me and that I have loved them just as you have loved me. (24) Father, since you have given them to me, I want them to be with me where I am and see the glory you gave me, for you loved me before the foundation of the world. (25) Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you, and these know that you have sent me. (26) As I revealed your name to them, so will I continue to reveal it, so that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I also may be in them.
This gospel passage is the continuation of Jesus’ last discourse to his apostles on the night before his crucifixion. Though Jesus spoke this in front of his beloved apostles, he addressed the last section given in chapter 17 to his Father. So, the scholars call this section since the 16th century as “high priestly prayer.” It was for the love and unity of his immediate (John 17:6-19) and future (John 17:20-21) disciples.
(John 17:20) I pray not only for these but also for those who through their word will believe in me.
After foreseeing the crises and needs of the immediate disciples in the early church, Jesus interceded to the Father for his future disciples, including us. This prayer presumed that Jesus’ disciples would transmit the gospel to the succeeding generations. So, Jesus’ prayer was also for the future believers who would receive the Word of God through the immediate and succeeding disciples of Jesus. Hence, this prayer includes all believers, at all times, and all over the world.
(21) So that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I am in you. May they be one in us, so the world may believe that you have sent me.
They may all be one.
Jesus prayed for Christian unity. The believers’ disunity would ruin his church. Once the Pharisees accused Jesus of casting out demons with the power of Beelzebul, the prince of the demons, Jesus taught a general principle that “Every kingdom that is divided against itself will fall apart, and every town or household that is divided against itself will not last.” (Matthew 12:25). Satan created division in the intimate relationship of God and the first parents. He and his team continue creating division among the people, starting with Cain and Abel. It shall persist in the world until Christ’s second coming.
God had promised through Prophet Jeremiah that He will bring back the Israelites to Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile. “I will give them one heart and one way, so that they may always fear me for their own good and the good of their children after them.” (Jeremiah 32:39). The “one heart” showed the unity among the Jews and “one way” their loyalty to the God of Israel. Jesus prayed to realize this promise in his disciples. He wished to bring all his sheep together, to remain loyal to God as “one flock and one shepherd.” (John 10:16).
Disunity can happen anytime, as happened in the early church. However, we must learn from the way they resolved the issues. The following are some examples:
As you, Father, are in me and I am in you.
Though Jesus addressed the prayer to his Father, it had a didactic impact on the disciples. Jesus presented union of Jesus and his Father as the model of unity among his followers. Though Jesus and the Father are independent, they are in perfect union. So also, there should be harmony in every Christian family, local church, and the universal church.
May they be one in us.
Jesus said: “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word and my Father will love him; and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John 14:23). So, a genuine lover of Jesus who keeps the word of God has the privilege of Jesus dwelling in him along with his Father. In God, we all become one body.
So the world may believe that you have sent me.
When Christians stay united with the bond of divine love, there will be a good Christian witnessing. Others will realize that the brotherhood of Christians is of divine origin. The non-believers will believe in Jesus, in whose name Christians live in harmony. The loving bond of the early Christian community had such an impact. “The whole community of believers was one in heart and mind.” (Acts 4:32). “The people held them in high esteem and an ever-increasing number of men and women believed in the Lord.” (Acts 5:13-14). Disunity in the church would cause an opposite impact. So Jesus prayed for his believers’ unity.
(22) I have given them the glory you gave to me, that they may be one as we are one.
In this verse, Jesus says that he received the glory from the Father. He shared that to his disciples. His goal is the faithful’s unity in the model of his harmony with the Father. To understand this statement, we need to analyze what the Bible means by glory.
God’s glory has various shades of meaning according to the context of its usage.
(23) I in them and you in me. Thus they shall reach perfection in unity so that the world shall know that you have sent me and that I have loved them just as you have loved me.
According to Jesus, his followers’ unity is essential for the world to know the divine origin of Jesus, their master. Jesus was emphasizing this by repeating it.
That I have loved them just as you have loved me.
The Father loves his Son Jesus, and he loves his followers. Because of the merits of Jesus, the disciples are eligible for unity with the Father. The perfection happens in this unity.
(24) Father, since you have given them to me, I want them to be with me where I am and see the glory you gave me, for you loved me before the foundation of the world.
Father, since you have given them to me
Jesus considers each believer as his gift from the Father. That is an honor for each believer. Let us remain as God’s gift to Jesus.
I want them to be with me where I am.
Since Jesus came to rescue humanity by offering his life as a ransom, his wish is that his believers join him in heaven where he sits at the right side of his Father. He will come again to receive us to that glorious place.
That they may see my glory that you gave me.
Jesus would like his followers to see the glory he has in heaven that the Father gave him. St. Stephen saw that even from the earth before his martyrdom. “Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus at God’s right hand.” (Acts 7:55).
For you loved me before the foundation of the world.
“The foundation of the world” refers to God’s act of creation. “Before” the foundation of the world, goes even further to the past eternity before God “created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1). According to St. Paul, God the Father has blessed us in Christ and “chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him.” (Ephesians 1:4). “He saved us and called us to a life of holiness. This did not depend on our merits, but on his generosity and his own initiative. This calling given to us before the beginning of time in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 1:9). So, even before creation, God chose his faithful through his Son’s redemptive plan. Jesus remembers the love he received from the Father even before the creation of the universe.
(25) Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you, and these know that you have sent me.
Jesus qualifies the Father as righteous. Righteousness stands for justice. The Bible uses this term for Zechariah and Elizabeth (Luke 1:6), Joseph, the husband of Mary (Matthew 1:19), Simeon (Luke 2:25), Joseph of Arimathea (Luke 23:50) and many others. They were righteous because they were living according to God’s Law. Jesus was righteous in a more perfect sense because he was God and free from sin. Even the centurion who oversaw the crucifixion of Jesus witnessed after Jesus’ death that he was righteous (Luke 23:47). Jesus declared that the Father is perfect in righteousness and the Holy Spirit is the source of all righteousness. (John 16:8-10).
The world also does not know you.
The world stands for the unbelievers, especially those who persecuted Jesus and the Christians. Because the worldly people do not know the Father or the Son’s divine origin, they persecuted Jesus and his followers (John 15:21, 16:3).
I know you, and these know that you have sent me.
Since Jesus came from the Father, he knew the Father. The disciples came to realize that the Father sent the Son. So, Peter confessed, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16). It satisfied Jesus that even though the secular world did not know his origin and mission, the disciples had recognized him as the Son of God.
(26) “As I revealed your name to them, so will I continue to reveal it, so that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I also may be in them.”
I revealed your name to them.
Jesus revealed the Father to his disciples. Name stands for the identity of a person. Jesus had revealed God’s love for humanity by obeying his Father to redeem the world through his passion, death, and resurrection. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (John 3:16).
So will I continue to reveal it.
Jesus was leaving the disciples the next day by his self-sacrifice. However, he will continue the revelation through the Holy Spirit. Jesus had promised his disciples: “From now on the Advocate, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and remind you of all that I have told you.” (John 14:26).
So that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I also may be in them.
While teaching the parable of the vine and branches, Jesus said: “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Remain in my love. You will remain in my love if you keep my commandments, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.” (John 15:9-10). So, as the Father loved the Son, so Jesus loved us, and we need to remain in his love.