”I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21that 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. 22The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23I 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.
24Father, 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.25“Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. 26I 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.”
Translation: "But I do not ask concerning these alone, but concerning the ones trusting into me through their word, so that they might all be one. Just as you, Father, in me and I in you, that they also might be in us, so that the universe might trust that you have sent me. I gave the glory which you have given to me. I gave to them so that they might be one just as we are one--I in them and you in me so that they might be the ones brought to a complete consummation into one so that the universe might know that you sent me and loved them just as you loved me.
Father, who has given to me, I desire that where I am, they might be with me, so that they might see my glory, which you have given to me because you loved me before the foundation of the universe. And righteous Father, the universe did not know you, but I myself knew you, and these knew that you sent me, and I have made your name known to them, and I will make known, so that with which you have loved me (may be) in them and I in them."
Background and situation: The reading features the conclusion of the high priestly prayer and the farewell discourses. The fourth gospel devotes fully four chapters to these discourses. The high priestly prayer summarizes several of their themes. With this reading, the final discourses are closed, and the fourth gospel moves into its passion narrative.
Unity: Good news for modern people: Jesus prays not only for his disciples, but also "the ones trusting into me through their word," which would be us, and everybody else who came after the immediate first generation of those who followed Jesus.
The lection may be divided into two parts--verses 20-23 focus on unity, verses 24-26 summarize themes of the final discourses. Verses 21-23 have six hina clauses, and two introduced by kathos--hina is a conjunction meaning "so that,"kathos means "just as" or "like." Fr. Ray Brown notes what he calls a "remarkable grammatical parallelism" in the three verses:
21a (hina) that they all may be one
21b (kathos) just as you, Father, in me and I in you
21c (hina) that they also may be (one) in us
21d (hina) thus the world may believe that you sent me
22b (hina) that they may be one
22c (kathos) just as we are one, I in them and you in me
23b (hina) that they may be brought to completion as one
23c (hina) thus the world may come to know that you sent me
In the two blocks of text, each of the first two hina clauses focus on unity, while the last hina clause, in each case, speaks of witness to the world. The "one-ness" of Jesus' followers helps the world to know that God sent Jesus. In each block, the unity of those who follow mirrors the unity between Jesus and the Father.
This passage is oft-cited in ecumenical dialog--we have all seen it in such contexts multiple times--but what does the fourth gospel actually have in mind when it speaks of unity? Does it have any connection to formal ecumenical dialogs between various traditions? Is institutional unity involved? Or, is it a unity of purpose and mission?
One notes, for starters, the importance of community--"that they may all be one." The stated reason for this unity is not so much for the benefit of the community itself, but rather for the benefit of the world. It encourages others to trust Jesus. Though the fourth gospel has some of the "highest Christology" in the New Testament, the purpose or goal of unity is not agreement in doctrine, but rather participation in common faith and purpose.
This unity is so profound that the fourth gospel uses one of the great words of the New Testament to describe it. It is tetelaiomenoi. The root word is telos, which means "end," or "goal," or "consummation."
Tetelaiomenoi is a perfect participle. Most translations render it as "perfected" (NASB) or "made perfect" (KJV). This seems a trifle thin. NIV seems closer with "be brought to complete unity." Brown has "that they may be brought to completion." Brown's translation--and NIV, in this case--appreciates the importance of telos and of being moved toward the goal.
Jesus will use the past perfect verbal form of telos as his last word from the cross--tetelestai, "it has been consummated," or "it has been brought to the goal" (19:30). Jesus went to the cross as an act of love (15:13). It is this love for the world that is "perfected" in cross and resurrection, and that enables the unity of his followers. Our oneness is not in doctrinal agreement about the cross, or anything else. Our unity is the cross event itself.
Harmony: Oneness is a powerful psychological symbol. We have many disparate parts of ourselves, both at the conscious and unconscious level. Some of these aspects of ourselves are in conflict. We yearn for the kind of unity that, as Gregory of Nyssa put it, "blends and harmonizes things (which are ordinarily) mutually opposed, so that many things become one."
This is true in our interior psychological life, and also in our communal life. We desire harmony in our social lives and relational world. Unfortunately, we sometimes seek to get this harmony by submerging our own ego in the service of a larger group. Totalitarian regimes aim for this kind of manufactured unity, and quite often get it. When we give up our own autonomy to the consciousness of the group, we also give up our responsibility. Fanaticism may follow.
This is not, obviously, that kind of harmonious communal life envisioned by the fourth gospel. For healthy ego development, individuality is not submerged in the group, but rather enhanced and nurtured by the group. We become fully-functioning mature persons at least partly through our participation in healthy communities and healthy interactions with others.
Love: Jesus then declares his desire (thelo) that his followers be where he is "so that they might see my glory." The fourth gospel looks forward to the "hour" when Jesus will be crucified, which, paradoxically, will also be the time of his glorification (13:31-32). (The grammatical structure of 13:31-32 suggests that, for the author of the fourth gospel, Jesus' "glorification" in the cross and resurrection event is to be understood as an ever-present reality.)
God gave this glory to Jesus because God loved Jesus "before the foundation of the universe" (17:24). Martin Luther once said that God created the universe precisely in order to save it. The author of the fourth gospel appears to agree. God's love existed before creation, and God gave the "glory" of the cross and resurrection to Jesus in order to save the world (4:42).
Or, to put it another way: Creation was designed so that everyone would work together in lives of mutual upbuilding, sharing with each other the gifts of creation. This, however, didn't work out as God intended. Sin interferes with the proper functioning of the world. There is a part of us that does not wish to share the gifts of God in creation with each other, but would rather block the delivery of those gifts and keep them for ourselves.
Therefore, we needed rescue. Plan A had failed and God then put Plan B into effect by sending Jesus to straighten everything out. As it happens, however, it was always in the mind of God to save the world. Plan B was really Plan A all along.
In the last remarks of his lengthy speech, Jesus refers to God as "righteous Father," the only use of this title in the New Testament. In the name of God's justice, Jesus asserts that even though the world did not know God (1:18), Jesus did and his followers knew it. Jesus has "made known" the Father's name to them, and will continue to do so.
Ginosko--"to know"--is the most intensive of the Greek words for knowledge. It means deep interior perception which influences our emotions and actions. It is "knowing" in an intimate and mystical sense. For the fourth gospel, mystical knowledge of God comes through mystical knowledge of Jesus, through whom the community of Jesus has access to God's love (17:26).
Jesus' final remarks accent major themes which resound throughout the fourth gospel--glory, love, knowledge, and mutual indwelling. Considering the many times mutual indwelling is affirmed--"I in them and they in me," as one of many possible examples--it should not be surprising that Jesus' final statement in this most important prayer is to affirm his indwelling and solidarity with his followers. Wes Howard-Brook:
The ultimate expression of Jesus' mission is to share God's name in order to fill people with God's love. God's name is not money or militarism or macho. It is The One Who Is, the one upon whom the foundation of the world rests, the one whose love permeates all that lives and calls it to bear fruit, fruit that will last into eternal life. (p. 369)
Image: Licht, Arthur Elser