As Jesus voices his parting prayer to the Father, he prays, not only for the disciples gathered around him, but also for all future disciples. His prayer includes all of us who will believe in Jesus through the word of his disciples. He prayed for the unity of all disciples over the past twenty centuries, “that they may all be one” (John 17:21).
The oneness for which Jesus prays is not self-generated by the disciples. It is not first and foremost a social or organizational unity. It is, rather, rooted in the unity between God the Father and Jesus the Son. It is a deep unity established among believers as they are taken into the oneness of love that Jesus has shared eternally with the Father.
This unity is not only a source of fulfillment for believers, but it should be a powerful witness to the world. The unity that God has established between peoples through the resurrection of Christ—Jew and Gentile, rich and poor, male and female, slave and free person—is an effective evangelizing sign by which Christian faith may be spread. The oneness of many people from diverse lands and languages inspires people to seek the source and foundation of that unity.
The unity among disciples for which Jesus prays has nothing to do with uniformity. So often the Church settles for some kind of uniformity because genuine internal unity is so difficult to achieve. But the unity that comes through love for one another requires that individual people be true to their unique selves. Diversity, in fact, is the hallmark of a unified community. The genuine unity for which Jesus prayed is not a conformity of ideas but a community that is united in love, characterized by trust, and healed by forgiveness.
When the Church is united, it is able to give credible witness to the Father, who is united with the Son and the Spirit in revealing himself and in transmitting divine salvation to the world. United in the Father’s love, the Church can express the same love with which the Father has loved the Son, and it can proclaim the good news of this love in a hostile world. In drawing us into his final prayer, Jesus asks that we who have experienced his love for the Father may accept our responsibility to draw others into the unity of love that constitutes the heart of the Trinity.
Lord of Love, help me to take away the obstacles that prevent me from experiencing unity with you and with your disciples. Make my life a sign and an instrument of that unity for which you prayed. May the divine love that you made visible to the world continue to be revealed through the forgiveness, love, and unity of your Church.
Stephen Binz is a Scripture scholar, speaker, and author of many books and articles on the Bible. This is taken from his book Conversing with God in the Easter Season. You can buy the book or read another selection at our website: wau.org.