“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:20 – 21)
There is, I am discovering, an inherent bias in biblical commentary. I should not be surprised, however, that it is present. The bias is that compassion and kindness will be seen as coming from a heavenly divine source, and such a source will be/can be/can only be from the Lord God who sent Jesus Christ. The following is but one commentary on verse 21 as it is understood from the proceeding verse. To quote Elliot’s Commentary for English Readers: “The result of the union of believers with God, and therefore with each other, will be that the world will see in it a proof of the divine origin of Christianity, and will believe that the Father sent the Son into the world.” My point of contention is NOT that unity and fellowship of believers does not come through a common belief in Jesus Christ the Lord God and the Divine. But that others, not knowing of/about the Lord God will say, “Oh, they must be believers in an ultimately Divine God.” No, what is says is that the compassion and care believers have can be traced back to a common source. The “leap” – if you will – is that the common source is the Lord God. And that Jesus was sent from the Lord God.
“The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (Verses 22 – 23)
It is my believe that this prayer by Jesus is for the benefit of his disciples. To encourage them, to mold them, to solidify them in purpose and intent. If, beloved reader, the intent was that evangelism and conversion to Christianity was to happen because of the close alignment between Jesus and believers AND the unity and oneness amongst believers – then in our modern society that is not happening. There is so much dissension and division amongst Christian believers that it is hard to fathom all of the coming from the same source and Source.
Would that it was true that unity amongst believers would point to the Lord God, and that such unity would result in conversion to Christianity. It used to be that way, or at least it was that way in my childhood. But my childhood is a long distance away. It is almost as if, beloved reader, we (that is the Christian faith) is starting again in identifying what is true and authentic faith. Each person or group has their own definition. But there is no unity of faith or theology. Viewing it from the inside out, I see the cracks and disunity that has come about in the face of difficult issues. I cannot even imagine what it looks like from the outside. But I shudder at the possible images.
“Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (Verses 24 – 26)
There is supposed to be unity!! There is supposed to be a cohesion of thought and action. That is why I say this prayer was for the benefit of Jesus’ disciples. This prayer is a teaching as much as a petition; perhaps even more of a teaching than a petition. I want to end with another quote from another biblical commentator – one whose thinking so often parallels mine. Albert Barnes said, “It is worthy of remark here how entirely the union of his people occupied the mind of Jesus as he drew near to death. He saw the danger of strifes and contentions in the church. He knew the imperfections of even the best of men. He saw how prone they would be to passion and ambition; how ready to mistake love of sect or party for zeal for pure religion; how selfish and worldly men in the church might divide his followers, and produce unholy feeling and contention; and he saw, also, how much this would do to dishonor religion.” Shalom!