The seventeenth chapter of the Gospel of John falls between the Passover meal that Jesus had with his disciples, where he washed their feet, and the beginning of the Passion narrative.
Since in John’s Gospel there is no institution of the Last Supper as in the other three Gospels, this chapter, which is known as the High Priestly Prayer serves the function of connecting Jesus life and ministry with his crucifixion and resurrection.
If we are being honest we must admit that some of the language sounds a bit like a Beetles Song.
“I am he as you are he as you are me
And we are all together…”
But the words Jesus uses are an attempt to draw us deeper into the meaning, which in some ways is beyond words, a meaning which is mystical.
The prayer itself is divided into three parts. First Jesus prays for himself. Not the prayer he prays in the other Gospels for the “cup to pass” but instead stead he prays that “the hour has come.” He is accepting his destiny to be the light to the world. Embracing even, the events that are about to take place.
In the second part of the prayer, Jesus prays for his disciples. “I have manifested your name,” he says to God. In this culture this means that he has revealed God’s essence to the disciples.
Bishop Spong says that Jesus is saying that, “I have given to my disciples, ‘the word,’ the revelation of who God is,” the revelation that God gave to Jesus.
Some commentators interpret this to mean that Jesus is saying that they came to know God through what Jesus said and that they will reveal to others who God is through their words.
But I think it is much deeper than that. The reason that I think this is so is because of how John’s Gospel begins.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.
To me this is a big clue that the author of John is not talking about the words that people say, but something quite different, something much bigger.
Meanwhile, our reading today is beyond this place in the High Priestly Prayer. We are hearing Jesus pray “also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one.”
There is that “word” again. He is saying that those who will come to believe will do so because of the “word” of the disciples. And yes, it’s easy to understand that he is saying that the stories the disciples will tell will reap benefits, but I think there is more he is trying to tell us.
He ends the petition with the idea that, “they may all be one.” And not just that there should be unity among Jesus’ followers, although in the past this has been used to try to persuade other denominations to unify under one practice of the Christian Faith in order to achieve ecclesiastical unity.
In effect, I like unity as long as it’s my unity that you subscribe to.
But, the oneness that Jesus is talking about is served more by accepting the differences that flourish in the Christian Community, and what Jesus is talking about is more than this and much deeper.
The actual Greek in this section says, “so the world might know that you delegated me.” For me this helps to bring a different dimension to the understanding of what Jesus is trying to tell us about the relationship he wants us to have with God and him.
Earlier in this same Gospel we read one of the most quoted passages from the Christian Scriptures,
God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
Let’s remind ourselves of the meaning of the word “believe” in the Gospel of John. This is another clue to what today’s Gospel is telling us. “Believe” in John’s Gospel is not a noun, it’s not something you have. It’s a verb. It’s something you do.
So then Jesus wants us to do something, which represents the concept of belief, but in a way that is translated into action. The “word” that we know from the very beginning of this Gospel, is not about speech, it’s about something that was with God from the very beginning. Jesus is clear that God who is also the word, loved him before the foundation of the world.
Now that’s a long time ago. After all, scientists just discovered fossils on Antarctica that are seventy-one million years old.
So what is this oneness that Jesus is praying for and if it’s not about our religious institutions, what is it about and how do we get there?
I don’t think it’s from following the maps that our biblical translators and culture have set for us. The way that the translators have chosen to represent the life, death and resurrection of Jesus has made it easy for some to understand that the only thing that Jesus is calling us to is a personal belief system to understand that God loves us and that our redemption comes through a personal relationship with him, a relationship that can be easily accessed alone in the woods or on the beach.
Our culture seems to be telling us that what is most important is our individuality and the accumulation of objects, and that both of these are directly connected.
But if God is in Jesus and Jesus is in God and Jesus wants us to be in both of them and wants both of them to be in us, this sets up a radically different way that we must understand who we are. It’s a game changer.
Its called incarnation, we believe that the feast we celebrate on December 25th is about the birth of Jesus and that is the event that represents what happened, but just as todays reading represents something much deeper than the words can convey, Christmas represents something much deeper also.
Incarnation is not just about what happened when Jesus was born. It’s about who we are as people. Jesus’ incarnation is a reminder to us of our own incarnation, that God dwells in each one of us and that we dwell in God.
God has been traditionally known as the “Ground of our Being.” I believe God is all of existence, not one thing by itself, but all of the universe and whatever is beyond. Far more than any one person can comprehend.
I believe that each of us is an incarnation. This means that we all have the same qualities we find in God, both creative and destructive.
The good news is that we have been given free will and whereas the universe, that is part of who God is, must follow certain laws of physics and operate in keeping with the laws
of gravity, space and time, we as people have a choice as to how we behave. We can choose to be creative and avoid the negative choices about us.
I believe that is why we ascribe the quality of Love as a definition for God. The only problem is that this simple definition leaves too many unanswered questions for those who want to try to understand the existence of evil and natural disasters.
You have probably asked yourself these same questions. If God is love how can there be such evil in the world? And how can the world have earthquakes and volcanoes that kill people? How can bad things happen to good people?
This is why understanding God as something much more complex than a person that distributes every thing that happens in the world is important.
But understanding that God is love is a good place to start. It reminds us that Christianity is a religion of hope and promise. Love is a powerful force in this world, which is why we celebrate Mother’s today, to remind us of those who have loved us into who we are.
Meanwhile, in order to realize Jesus’ call to unity, we must acknowledge that we are creatures with a divine nature who can choose to be one with God and Christ and to express our love for each other and the world through the way we show our belief in the goodness that is available around us.
This is truly the salvation of the world. May we all be one in seeking this salvation in whatever language, culture, or spiritual path we find ourselves.