That They May All Be One
Easter 7 Year C
A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
St. John 17: 20 — 26
Remember the closing few verses of the Gospel according to St Luke, and how the final view the disciples had of the Lord, was Jesus in a posture of prayer — with hands lifted up, blessing his followers. The response of those disciples was, as you will also recall, that they were filled with joy, and they prayed and blessed God frequently.
The Church has, ever since, kept this image of the Lord in unceasing prayer, before her. The early Church continued to model herself on this example. Thus she reflected the same unceasing prayer, alert attention, watching and waiting for the Lord to return, crying:
“Maranatha” — Come Lord Jesus.
The Sunday which has this Gospel reading assigned to it occurs during the nine days of special prayer from Ascension Thursday to the festival of Pentecost.
It is during this time that we do what the first Christians did. We gather together for prayer and meditation, and ponder the events which the Gospel account related for us. In this particular case we meditate on the Great Prayer of Jesus on the night of the Last Supper. It is the longest recorded prayer of Jesus and remains an inspiration to the Church he formed to continue his work in the world. It is often referred to as the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus.
On this occasion, the night before he died, the Lord had been instructing his Apostles, at the conclusion of which he would have stood up and in Jewish custom would have sung the Hallel (Psalms 113 to 118). Then, still standing, he would have offered this Priestly Prayer. In it he talked about his mission and the needs of his disciples present. Then he went on to pray for all believers down through the ages. It is at that point we join the prayer at verse 20.
Some Reflections on our Text
We acknowledge that the following notes are unusually detailed. The text we are meditating on is possibly the most profound ever recorded in human history. We will never fully plumb the depths of this great prayer. To be a Christian, is to have the honour to hold this as part of one’s spiritual heritage. For this reason we have added extra details to help each reader to treasure it in the depths of their heart, and to return to it often and be renewed and strengthened, and above all, to become more at one with God, with others, and within one’s own self.
Verses 20 and 21 (a)
“I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe
in me through their word,
so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in
you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe
that you sent me.”
In this way our Lord prays for all future believers exactly what he prayed for his original disciples.
Thus his top priority is that all his disciples are to reflect a very distinctive and unique mark: the unity between the Father and the Son. Our source of unity therefore is always to be located in heaven. All manner of disintegration will surround the Church, but its members are to manifest an inner unity. But that is not all.
“….. that they also may be in us, that the world may believe
that you sent me.”
Our Lord goes on to extend and emphasise this idea of unity. The text is usually translated something like ours above, “that they also may be in us”. Some Greek manuscripts have, “May they also be one in us”. Most commentators agree that, in essence, the meaning is the same. It is a mystery that while in this life we cannot be “one” as are the Father and the Son, nevertheless our Lord prays that we will in some way share in their unity. This unity is to be found in the membership each Christian has by virtue of belonging to the Body of Christ — His Church. We cannot be more closely united with Him than when we are loyal members of His Body, of which He is the Head.
Jesus goes on to give a reason for his very focussed and earnest prayer:
“….. that the world may believe that you sent me, …..”
Here, he is harkening back to this teaching about the vine in chapter 15, verses 4 and 5 respectively.
“Remain in me, as I remain in you.”
“I am the vine and you are the branches”.
By heeding this call, the followers of Jesus will manifest not only divine unity, but also God’s presence. This in turn he says, will help people in the world to see that it was for them that he was sent. We could not miss the profound concern Jesus Messiah has that His Church will reach out to the whole world and seek to share this priceless treasure with all humanity. Here is one of the wellsprings of our evangelisation.
Verses 22 and 23
“And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they
may be one, as we are one,
I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection
as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you
loved them even as you loved me.”
It is hardly surprising if we find we have difficulty in understanding this. It is after all, the Lord praying to his Father, yet allowing His closest followers to witness His outpouring to the Father.
In this verse, Jesus in a way, simplifies his declarations about unity, and expands them more fully, to give the prominence his teaching on unity is to have. We interpret his words to mean:
“I pray that my disciples may be so closely united —
I dwelling in them, and you dwelling in me — that they
may be compacted and perfected into one body —
having one mind, one will, one heart, and one judgement,
though having many members. And that then the world,
seeing this great all-pervading unity, will be enabled also
to believe that you sent me to be your Anointed One,
your Messiah, and that you love me”.
But, what is this “glory” that God gave his Son, which He has handed on to us? Scholars over the ages have given their opinions which we can reflect on. Some of these are:
The image and likeness of God by which the disciples were:
— renewed (2 Cor 3: 18).
— the imperceptible power, influence and authority which
accompanied all our Lord did and said during his earthly ministry.
— thus Moses had “glory” in his countenance when coming down
from the mount (2 Cor 3: 7).
— this same power and influence Christ gave to the Apostles (Act 4: 33).
— the power of working miracles, which was the special and peculiar
glory of our Lord while he was on earth. Thus we read, “Christ was
raised from the dead by the glory of the Father” (Rom 4: 4).
— the heavenly glory and immortality, which our Lord promised to
his disciples — a glory which they should have after faithfully
serving him on earth (Rom 8: 18).
— the spiritual union which is communicated to us in the celebration
of the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper.
— the unity of mind and heart.
— the gift of the Holy Spirit who is elsewhere called
“the Spirit of Glory” (1 Peter 4: 14)
Perhaps each of these helps us catch a glimpse of the inexhaustible meaning of this precious gift unequalled in all spiritual writing.
“Father, they are your gift to me. I wish that where I am they
also may be with me, that they may see my glory that you
gave me, because you loved me before the foundation of the world.”
Jesus follows His earlier profound thoughts with even deeper ones.
The opening words to this verse have always warmed the hearts of our Lord’s followers.
“Father, they are your gift to me.” The early Church took this very seriously. One of the ways this is evidenced is their regular meeting together for prayer and shared reflection. As members of His Body the Church, and members of God’s household, they looked upon one another as family — and manifested this in the way they addressed and cared for one another. The Church today seeks to foster this culture of caring for and valuing every person, every life.
Our Lord goes on to show how precious this gift from the Father is to him. Jesus Messiah yearns for the presence of his followers. Elsewhere he has talked of a certain unity, even in this world. Here, he is reaching forward to the final consummation. He is praying for every follower — and remains praying for them, that they will reach their final Homeland and behold the Son’s glory. In keeping with the rest of this prayer we can be sure that whilst Jesus is talking ultimately of the final consummation, His disciples are to begin in this life, growing in their capacity to behold His glory.
(2 Cor. 3: 18)
To behold the glory of the Lord is most certainly not to look on as a spectator, but to participate in it, share in it, be enlightened by it, and find fulfilment in it, beginning even in this life. Those who feel uncomfortable with this emphasis sometimes feel the need to focus more on ‘caring for this world, here and now!’ This can be illusory. The whole point of our Lord being sent by the Father is for the restoration of all mankind and indeed the whole of creation. It will be patterned on principles and values which the Church is to exemplify. Even in this life, with the help of the Holy Spirit, our intimacy with the Lord as Head of the Church will be the channel by which these principles and values are made known to the world and put into action.
The closing words of this verse open up a whole new vista of faith. Talking to His Father, our Lord says, “You loved me before the foundation of the world”. Thus the glory of Jesus Messiah in the next world is a glory which had been prepared from all eternity, before time began, and before the creation of man. It was not only something which, as in the case of Moses, or John the Baptist, He had obtained by his faithfulness on earth; but something He had, as the eternal Son of the Eternal Father, from everlasting.
“Righteous Father, the world also does not know you,
but I know you, and they know that you sent me.”
Jesus enters into the last stage of his profound prayer by calling on God as his “Righteous Father”. This is a very beautiful title and it is the only time anyone witnessed our Lord using it. The word “righteous” can only be represented by a cluster of meanings especially when ascribed to the Father. These include:-
— faithful, truthful, just;
— whose acts are always in agreement with his nature
— without prejudice or partiality;
— who always does what is right;
— merciful and abounding in loving kindness.
The prayer continues, “….. but I know you, and they know that you sent me“.
“I made known to them your name and I will make it known, that
the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them.”
Here, as previously our Lord declares that to make known the Father, was one of the great objects of His ministry. We can take comfort in the fact that He continues not only to expand our knowledge of the Father as he here promises — but also will continue to make the Father known more widely throughout humanity.
And why, this pledge of commitment to so great a mission? The answer lies in the final words of his prayer. Still addressing his Father he says,
“that the love with which you loved me may be in them, and I in them”.
All the time the Lord Jesus wishes to extend the reach of the Father’s love, through His Church out to the furtherest, least known, even (humanly speaking) least valued person.
This is indeed a great climax to our Lord’s intimate prayer to the Father, which remained an inspiration for the Church down through the ages. What could give greater confidence to Jesus’ followers confronted with the most dangerous threats of violence, oppression and indescribable satanic torture, than these beautiful words. Just as these words of Christ have enabled his followers to die for him, so they continue to help others to live for him.
We give one example here, of the way our forebears were influenced to think and teach by this text.
“If an earthly King lie but one night in a house, what care
there is taken that nothing be offensive to him, and that all
be neat, and sweet, and clean! How much more careful
ought you to be to keep your hearts clean, to perform
service acceptable to Him, to be in the exercise of faith,
love, and other graces, that so you may entertain, as you
ought, your heavenly King, who comes to take up His
continual abode in your hearts.”
We can see why Christians who understood this truth of the Lord’s teaching about His presence within His followers, would do nothing to dishonour Him no matter how terrible the fury of hell unleashed upon them.
We will all feel humbled as we leave our reflection on this privileged insight into our Lord’s prayer life. Hopefully this will help us see that we have but scratched the surface and that it would be in our best interest to return often to it and meditate on its endless riches.
Over a period of time we should reflect on the whole prayer of 26 verses. Meanwhile we can at least pray daily for the four things our Lord upholds in it for us: (a) our preservation in the Faith, (b) our continued sanctification, (c) our undamaged unity, and (d) readiness for the Lord’s Return at the end of time and our final entry into the fullness of His glory.
We conclude with a very fine comment from an old exposition of this chapter by George Newton:
“How earnest and importunate is Christ with God the Father, that we may be one here, and that we may be in one place hereafter! Oh, let us search into the Heart of Jesus Christ, laid open to us in this abridgment of His intercession for us, that we may know it and the workings of it more and more, until at length the precious prayer comes to its full effect, and we be taken up to be for ever with the Lord; and where He is there we may be also!”
This is indeed a challenge which calls for a robust response from every person who desires to see this “precious prayer” fulfilled.
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(Mark 16: 15)
The real Jesus is the real answer to the real needs of the world.
Let us remember God’s Teaching, contained in His Word and in doing so,
That They May All Be One
7th Sunday of Easter Year C St. John 17: 20 — 26
1. We can gain enduring strength from our Lord’s expressed concern to pray not only for the Apostles who are listening to His prayer, but also for every single person who comes to believe in Jesus Messiah through their word.
2. Our Lord goes further and prays that the whole world may believe not only that the Father sent Him, but that He was sent to bring them into the Family of God through the Apostles and their successors, reaching out through every member of the Body of Christ, His Church.
3. As the Church moves down through the ages, its members are invited to reflect on one of its greatest spiritual treasures: that the love with which the Father loves the Son, resides in each of them as does indeed the Lord Jesus Himself. This message is to be taken and shared with every person in the world who will receive it. This is core material of evangelisation.
John 17: 20 — 26
7th Sunday of Easter Year C
20 “I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me
21 so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you,
22 And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may
23 I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection
24 Father, they are your gift to me. I wish that where I am 7 they
25 Righteous Father, the world also does not know you, but I know
26 I made known to them your name and I will make it known, 8
8  I will make it known: through the Advocate.
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised