Benny Nalkara, CMI
The priestly prayer of Jesus (Chapter 17) marks the climax point of the farewell discourse in the Gospel of John. His focus on the glory of the Cross, his sense of fulfilment of the mission entrusted with him, his idea of discipleship and above all his unique intimacy with the Father are highlighted in this remarkable prayer made by Jesus. But the quintessence of this prayer is nothing but the unity and oneness of His followers. There is throughout this whole chapter, a ringing confidence about the future in the voice of Jesus. He was with His men, the men God had given Him; He thanked God for them; and He never doubted that they would carry on the work He had given them to do. But at the same time His concern for the disciples is reflected in the prayer.
Jesus prays for the unity of His disciples. During His early days of sojourn with His disciples He had seen the glimpses of elements like self-centredness, envy, and competition among them. He envisioned a community that all its members would be one as He and the Father are one and prayed for it. It was not a unity of administration or organization; it was not in any sense an ecclesiastical unity. It was a unity of personal relationship. The unity brought out by the brotherhood and sisterhood of Christians as a witness to their common Fatherhood in God.
Jesus prayed: “…that they all may be one; as Thou, Father, in me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in us” (Jn. 17:21). The basis of the unity, Jesus was intending and praying for was in the model of the intimacy between Him and the Father. The union between Jesus and the Father was one of love and obedience. It was a unity and oneness resulted from mutuality and sharing. It was a unity of self-emptying love for which Jesus prayed, a unity in which men and women loved each other because they loved him. It was a unity based entirely on the relationship between heart and heart.
He prays to the Father and says: “All that I have is yours, and all that you have is mine” (Jn. 17:10). The second part of this sentence is the astonishing claim–”All that you have is mine.” Never did Jesus so vividly lay down His oneness with God. He is so one with Him that He exercises His very power and prerogatives. The unity in being and the collegiality in mission is emphasized here. As the Father and Jesus are thus One in being, so, or similarly, the believers are to live in and for each other, becoming a unity, just as the Father and Son are united. This unity has its true and only ground in faith in Christ through the Word of God; and is therefore not mere outward uniformity. At the same time its effects are to be real and visible, such that the world may see them. The union which springs from the blended life of the various and even contradictory elements in the Church will prove the reality of its origin.
Where there are divisions, where there is exclusiveness, where there is competition, the unity prayed for by Jesus is endangered. The Gospel cannot become the catalyst of transformation where there is no unity and oneness. Further, as Jesus saw it and prayed for it, it was to be precisely that unity which convinced the world of the truth of Christianity and of the place of Christ. It is more natural for men to be divided than to be united. It is more human for men to fly apart than to come together. It is our individual duty to demonstrate that unity of love with our fellow men which is the answer to Christ’s prayer.
Unity envisioned by Jesus should not be misunderstood and misinterpreted as uniformity. There are a number of diversities in the concrete observances of Christian ideals. Often the attempts to make uniformity at any cost by ignoring the essence of love and unity end up in meaningless acts of ritualism and counter-witnessing instances with exclusivist tendencies. But Christian unity should transcend all these differences and joins men and women together in love. The self-emptying or agapeic love is the essence of the unity and oneness envisaged by Jesus. Only love implanted in human hearts by God can tear down the barriers which they have erected between each other and between their communities. Agapeic unity, not ritualistic uniformity is the identity marker of a Christian today.