Gospel: John 17:1-11
Epistle: 1 Peter 4:12-19; 5:6-11
Lesson: Acts 1:12-26
Psalm: Psalm 68:1-10
CLB Commentary – Dr. Rich Erickson
John’s Gospel is sparing with narrations of Jesus’ deeds, at least in comparison to the Synoptic Gospels. It is also by far the most generous of the four with its accounts of Jesus’ speeches and prayers. Like the other three, John devotes the bulk of the Gospel’s second half to Jesus’ ministry in Jerusalem, particularly his ministry to his own disciples during the final days before his crucifixion.
This week’s pericope selection takes us to Jesus’ so-called “High Priestly Prayer,” or at least the first half or so of it. We give it that name because in it Jesus prays not on his own behalf, but on behalf of his people, as becomes a priest, especially a high priest. He speaks to the Father not as a go-between protecting his people from the Father, as if shielding them from Him. Rather Jesus regards his people as those whom the Father has given to him, that is, not only as the Father’s own, but also as given by the Father to Jesus. Jesus acknowledges that the Father himself has sent him (not that he has had to convince the Father to be merciful) and that those whom the Father has given him belong both to Jesus and to the Father. This whole thing Jesus is now facing was the Father’s idea, to be carried out for the sake of these people.
Although Jesus offered this prayer before his ordeal and resurrection from the dead, we are studying it in the liturgical aftermath of celebrating his resurrection. As John has Jesus put it in verse 11, Jesus is now no longer in the world, but his people are. Jesus is not thinking of protecting his people from the Father, but asking the Father to protect his people—from the world evidently—and for a very specific reason: “so that they may be one,” as Jesus and the Father are one.
But this oneness is a value that few besides Jesus, the Spirit, and the Father share. Paul stresses in Ephesians 4 that there is only one “body,” one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, and one baptism, reflecting one God and Father of us all. It’s that same unity of the Body that Jesus prays for to the Father on behalf of his people in John 17:11. It starts locally, in the homes—marriages, families, extended families. It applies to local congregations: enough already with petty quarrels, absurd posturing, power-seeking, influence peddling, and damnable backbiting and gossip. Paul also speaks of putting others’ interests ahead of one’s own, just as Jesus Christ did (Philippians 2), the same Jesus who now prays for God’s people.
The unity of Jesus’ people, the Body of Christ, extends all the way up to and through denominations and traditions. Roman Catholics, Orthodox, Reformed, Lutheran, Baptists and Anabaptists; together we constitute the One Church. But it is enough for a Sunday sermon to focus on family unity and unity within the local congregation. Why should we too not pray for, and give ourselves to living out, Jesus’ earnest desire to see his people loving one another as he has loved us? Without that, Jesus’ desire for unity among his people is unattainable.
And we are talking about unity, not about uniformity.