That They May be One (Jn 17:11)

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By Fr. Anacletus Ogbunkwu

Just fresh in our celebration of the Ascension, Jesus prays for unity among his disciples using the paradigm of unity between him and the father as an example. This chapter of John’s (17) Gospel comes at the conclusion of Jesus’ Farewell Discourse delivered to the disciples at the Last Supper. The whole of this chapter is a prayer of Jesus, commending himself to the Father and expressing his care and concern for his disciples. Here Jesus prays not only for those who believe in him but for all who will come to believe in him. And he prays that the love of the Father in him may also be in all who believe so that Jesus might be in them as well.

It is obvious that security, happiness and peaceful relations are desired by all men. Nevertheless, our world today is graced with disunity, crisis, inter-tribal war so much so that the United Nations only bears a nomenclature of no ontological existence, the so called United Kingdom is today far from the unity desired. Come to think of the United Umunna Brothers Association in your community. Does it actually exist by that very name Umunna or an interest group for political maneuver? It is quite unfortunate that our world has been torn apart warranted by nationalism, capitalism, unhealthy competition, blind greed, selfishness e.t.c. we cannot regain the lost human desire mentioned above if we do not go back to the drawing board, that is, unity among men.

Just celebrated the Ascension of the Lord on Thursday, today Jesus prays for the church that we may all be one. This is a sign that Jesus understands our world. It was shortly before He went in for his suffering and death and knowing the possible fallouts from this experience, Jesus prayed that we be one. A very important question today is what form of oneness did Jesus refer? What did he pray for? Is it oneness by aggregation like sedimentary rock (each aggregate with its own different intention/agenda) or integral oneness like igneous rock?

Our gospel reading from John today is known as Jesus’ “high priestly prayer”. Let’s recall the context of this prayer of Jesus’. It was Thursday night in this part of John’s account, the evening before Jesus’ crucifixion. He knew he would soon be leaving his disciples to fulfill his mission and wanted them to be prepared. And so Jesus always taught his disciples about his nature, mission, destiny, and about their role and future and now he prayed that they may be one.

Jesus’ disciples had returned to the city of Jerusalem from the mount of Olivet, where they witnessed Jesus’ ascension. They went to the upper room where they were staying—the room in which they celebrated Jesus last supper? Luke draws a vivid picture of a community united in prayer as they await the promised gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:12-14). Reminded by this setting, perhaps, Peter stands to interrupt their prayer with a concern to replace Judas in the circle of the disciples. Judas represents a vast number of people who think they are Christians but are not really serving God but money. As far as love is concerned, Judas was never a friend of Jesus, he pretended to be loving Jesus as far as his association with Jesus was fetching him as much money as he needed. Even the Bible acknowledges that he used to help himself with the money that was meant for the welfare of Jesus and his disciples. Hence he was replaced with Matthias which means God’s gift.

The seriousness of Peter’s concern is echoed in the Gospel reading, in which Jesus’ priestly prayer on their behalf brings to mind the danger of division to the community represented by Judas’ defection: “I am not asking you to take them out of the world,” Jesus prays, “but I ask you to protect them from the evil one” (John 17:15). Even after the division he caused, Judas was never the same with the apostles of Christ. Judas’ fate and that of his property are intertwined. He died on the farm which was bought with the blood money and his dwelling place was deserted (Acts1:10). And, as his property is vacant, so is his place in the apostolic circle; therefore “let another take his office” (1:20). Judas’ apostasy from the Twelve is expressed by the buying of a farm, his perdition is expressed by the desertion of the property, that empty property expresses the vacancy in the apostolic circle. That Luke intends just such an interpenetration of the notion of authority and the symbolism of property is shown by the final statement concerning Judas, that he left his “Place” in the ministry precisely by his “going to his own place”

And what does he pray for? Jesus knew it would not be easy but prayed for our oneness. Jesus — the one who came to bring abundant life, did not run away in the face of danger, and laid down his life for the sheep – he offers an alternative spirit and reality. This is the reason the kosmos that is the world in John’s usage meaning the spirit and power that is hostile to God’s good intention to love and redeem all. This is the reason that the world hates Jesus and will hate those who follow him. So Jesus didn’t pray that it be easy, rather that God will support the disciples amid their challenges and that they will be one in fellowship with each other and with Jesus and the Father through the Spirit.

Jesus gives us a message on how to survive. First he stresses “oneness.” The only way to withstand the fierce elements of the world is to stay together. Disunity is our greatest threat. When we think of threats we usually think of terrorism, disease or lack of employment. But, Jesus says our greatest threat is divisiveness or disunity. Without “oneness” we will perish or become “worldly.” In other words he reminds his followers to maintain a relationship with God, with Christ and with one another because they worship one God (1Tim.2.5). Relationships are the key to survival. Just as those with addictions need a support group, people of faith need to stay connected to the church. This oneness removes acrimony and hatred. Let it not be oneness for the sake of oneness for its sake by mere aggregation like the sedimentary rock that forms piles but like igneous rock which forms from crystalline solid of the cooling magma that has greater oneness and uneasy to divide.

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