By Barry Newton
Jesus was no exception. When death loomed, he too focused upon the life he had lived and what lay ahead.
And so it was that as darkness descended upon his final evening, the Son of God poured out his heart to the Father. John ushers us into this intimate moment between Son and Father.
Looking to the future Jesus prayed:
“Holy Father, keep them in your name which you have given me, that they may be one even as we are one. … I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one.” (John 17:11,20,21, NIV).
His words are easy to read. But what characterizes this oneness?
Perhaps if all those who identify themselves as being disciples would simply acknowledge their solidarity with each other, Christ’s prayer would be realized.
If our mere claim of being Christian constitutes fellowship under Christ, then discipleship is a humanistic product and not the result of God’s initiative through Christ.
However, Jesus’ own teaching that, “many will say unto me ‘Lord, Lord’ … I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you,'” (Matthew 7:22) precludes understanding oneness as a grand ecumenicalism founded upon human claims.
Rather, in this prayer Jesus described a disciple as one who has accepted the Father’s message, believed on the Son, obeyed God’s message and God has given that person to Jesus.
Did Jesus envision the oneness of a conglomerate, a bonding together of fundamentally dissimilar entities? Jesus described those for whom he prayed as: “they have obeyed your word.” (John 17:6,9)
Since Jesus specified he was not praying for the world, but specifically for those who had been shaped by the same fundamental trajectory of obedience to God, the mere union of humanity under an umbrella does not fulfill Jesus’ request.
Or perhaps the oneness Jesus sought remains elusive unless disciples are in total agreement on everything. Does uniformity of perspective capture the essence of oneness? Hardly.
While believing in Jesus and obeying God’s message will shape disciples within a common trajectory, the oneness Jesus repeatedly describes is relational: “that they may be one as we are one. I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity.” (John 17:22,23)
An assembly characterized merely by union, uniformity, or even the unity of a self-proclaimed solidarity does not capture the oneness for which Jesus prayed.
Jesus’ prayed that those in whom he was, that is, those whom the Father had given to him, would in fact be united as he was with the Father. His prayer desires his disciples to enjoy relational unity and be uniform in their purpose sharing a common union in him.