Thought for the day
Sometimes the simpler, the deeper and the deeper, the simpler. John’s Gospel illustrates this: using no technical or esoteric vocabulary, the writer nevertheless manages hold before us God, the beyond in the midst, in the happy phrase of Bonhoeffer.
In some senses, the deepest reality is also the simplest. Love is our origin. Love is our constant calling. Love is our fulfilment in heaven. None of the mystery is lost and yet none of the love is missed. The writer orientates us towards the Mystery, lost in wonder love and praise.
God, help us recognise you, the divine beyond in the midst of the everyday reality. Spirit, inspire in us to see the God of love in everyone and everything. Jesus, be with us always to the end of the age. To you be the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.
John 17:20 [Jesus said] “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21 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. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 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. 24 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.
John 17:25 “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. 26 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.”
John 17 is a kind of Cinderella chapter. The writer chose to bring Jesus’ final discourse to a climax with these verses and yet they are read only on seventh Sunday of Easter. Because so many places now celebrate the Ascension on that the Sunday, the chapter is almost never proclaimed on Sundays.
This a pity for the chapter as a whole but especially for these final few paragraphs. However, John 17 is read during the seventh week of Easter on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, using the same divisions as in years A, B and C.
Kind of writing
The whole of John 13-17 belongs to the genre of Farewell Discourse. The final chapter takes the following steps:
Jesus prays for his glorification and describes eternal life (1-5)
The beginning of eternal life in the disciples (6-8)
Jesus prays for his disciples (9-19)
Jesus prays for future believers (20-24)
Jesus concludes his prayer (25-26)
The portions appointed for this Sunday are accordingly the final two units, verses 20-26. All of John 17 is in some degree inspired by the Lord’s Prayer.
Old Testament background
Declare and present your case; let them take counsel together! Who told this long ago? Who declared it of old? Was it not I, the Lord? There is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Saviour; there is no one besides me. (Isaiah 45:21)
O let the evil of the wicked come to an end, but establish the righteous, you who test the minds and hearts, O righteous God. (Psalm 7:9)
For the Lord is righteous. (Psalm 11:7; 119:137; 129:4)
New Testament foreground
Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him. (John 14:1–7)
They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them. (John 14:21)
Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. (Romans 15:7–9)
Verse 20 “Those who will believe” translates a present particle in Greek but the meaning is probably future, pointing to the increasingly Gentile reality of the Jesus movement. Their “word” reflects a very early tradition meaning the Gospel about Jesus. See also John 4:39 and 20:29.
Verse 21 The insistence upon love and unity is quite revealing about the real state of things. The John community comprised quite diverse groups: followers of John the Baptist, Pharisees, Samaritans and Gentiles. As in any healthy community, there was conflict. Hence the intercession that they may all be one.
For “as,” the Gospel uses the Greek adverb kathōs, which means far more than merely being inspired by or replicating the love of Jesus. In key places in this Gospel, kathōs means that the sending, the serving, the loving, the self-giving of Jesus are continued immediately and directly in the sending, serving, loving and self-giving of true disciples. Our mission is literally his mission.
The desired unity is not a matter of compatibility or politics or compromise. On the contrary, the community draws its unity from the unity of the Father and the Son. This unity is not simply a desideratum, it also has an evangelical purpose: that the world may believe. See also John 17:8, 25.
Verse 22 Glory, in this Gospel, belongs to the category of revelation. Jesus was glorified in his death and resurrection, meaning that the very heart of God was disclosed through the lifting up. In this Gospel, God serves humanity and reveals himself as lover, to an astonishing, incredible degree. This “glory” has been given to all believers, so that they too may continue to disclose God through their love, service and self-giving. The oneness of the community flows directly from their faith and their mission.
Verse 23 The triple weave of this love is elusively hinted at: the threads can be distinguished (Father, Son and believers) but cannot be separated. Once again, this love has a purpose beyond the community: so that the world may know. The little word “as” (kathōs) is used again, revealing the one love of the Father for the Son and for all who believe in him. The reader will not forget to recall John 3:16 at this point. See also 14:21, 23 and 16:27.
Verse 24 In this Gospel, the early Christian tension towards the end of time has been relaxed and scholars speak of realised eschatology (the presence moment of salvation). But even so, there is a future, already made clear in John 14:1-7 (see above; 12:26; 14:3).
Again, glory points not to “honour and glory” but to being and identity disclosed in Jesus. Behind it stands not the Greek concept of doxa (glory as appearance) but the Hebrew concept of kāḇôḏ (glory as substance, weight or importance). See John 17:5. The intricate 24c means that love, identity, disclosure and creation are all bound up together. Before the foundation of the world takes the reader back to the Prologue of the Gospel (see John 1:1 above) and the pre-existence of the Word.
Verse 25 Various forms of “to know” and “to love” appear in prodigal fashion in these final verses. To know means more than to be acquainted with or to have information about. Instead, “know” points to an interpersonal knowledge, the way Adam “knew” his wife in Genesis 4:1, even though they had already been introduced! A loving knowledge is intended, a far deeper reality. On Jesus’ lips “I know you” can only mean “I love you.” Even 25b cannot mean simply they have information — rather they have become whole-heartedly convinced of this reality with their entire being.
Verse 26 Name points to the person, not simply a title. Jesus has disclosed the Father, and this disclosure is a disclosure of love. “I will make it known” is a kind of future continuous, “I will continue to make it known.”
Pointers for prayer
1. Conflict is normal and but so is the desire for harmony and unity. How have I personally negotiated this tension as a person of faith and prayer?
2. Love should be our great calling card as Christians (as the song puts it: “they will know we are Christians by our love.” Well, would they?
3. Do I find myself moved and attracted by the visionary mysticism of John’s Gospel — do I find myself drawn to it from deeply within self?
Father, righteous one, your beloved Son prayed that his disciples in every generation might be one as you and he are one. Look upon this assembly gathered in his name. Fulfil in us the prayer of Jesus and crown our celebration of this paschal season with your Spirit’s gift of unity and love.
Grant this through Jesus Christ, the first-born from the dead, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.