Jesus Prays for All Believers
20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you 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 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
24 “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.
25 “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26 I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”
This passage from the Gospel of John, like the readings in several of our recent Reflections, comes from John’s account of Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples. It’s actually a part of the prayer Jesus prayed before the gathering broke up.
It’s hard to overstate the importance of the Last Supper in John. Many of the most important things Jesus said and did in that gospel happened during that gathering. Jesus got down on his knees and washed the feet of the disciples – and then he commanded them to do likewise. Jesus foretold his betrayal by one of them, and his impending death. Jesus promised the coming of the Holy Spirit and that he would return to take the disciples to be where he was. And Jesus commanded them to love one another, so that their love for one another would be the identifying mark of his followers.
And after all those things happened, Jesus prayed. And think about what that means: We are given the privilege of listening in as God the Son spoke to God the Father through God the Holy Spirit. On this occasion, humankind was allowed to listen in on the internal dialogue – or maybe ‘trialogue’ – of the Holy Trinity.
Jesus began by praying that the passion and death he was about to undergo would bring glory to himself and to God and bring eternal life to his followers. Then he prayed for God’s continuing presence with those followers as he finished his earthly ministry and they were left on earth to take up that ministry on his behalf.
And then we come to this passage that is our gospel reading for today. Having prayed for his own mission and for the disciples gathered around him, Jesus turns his attention – and his prayers – to those who would come to believe in him through the witness and ministry of the first disciples. So when you think about it, Jesus was praying for us.
Isn’t that overwhelming – that the last act of Jesus’ earthly ministry was to pray for people like us? It seems to me there’s a human instinct to close your time with someone you care about by expressing the thought you most want them to carry away with them. That’s why it’s so common for people parting from loved ones to say, “I love you,” as they go their separate ways. So the fact that Jesus, who in the next 24 hours would be subjected to a horrible death, would be thinking about me and you in that moment – well, I definitely find that overwhelming. It strikes me as a staggering testimony to his love for us.
That also magnifies the importance of what Jesus actually prayed on that occasion, doesn’t it?
First of all, Jesus prayed that those of us who follow him might “be one.” He prayed that we would demonstrate the same unity that exists between the Father and himself. And Jesus says that the unity of the church will be essential to making the world believe in him.
That’s pretty challenging, don’t you think? Most of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus sort of give lip service to the idea of ‘Christian unity,’ but really only want to be ‘unified’ with those who agree with us about the important issues of the faith. But apparently, if we really want to make Jesus known to the world, we have to share his commitment to fostering unity with all of his disciples – including those who disagree with us and criticize us. Not always easy.
And Jesus also prays that those who follow him might be with him in the heavenly glory he’s going to when he leaves this world. Presumably that’s a prayer God would be ready and eager to grant. So those of us who give our hearts and our lives to following Jesus can do that in the hope and confidence that we will meet him in the heavenly kingdom when our service in this world is done.
If you ask me, this prayer that Jesus prayed on his last night on earth really is one of the most uplifting passages in all of the New Testament.
Let’s pray. Lord, we thank you for thinking of us in your last hours on earth, even in the face of the great suffering that stood before you. By your Spirit, empower us to work tirelessly for the unity of all believers, and help us to cling to the hope of finding a place with you in your heavenly kingdom. Amen.
Grace and Peace,
(The other readings for today are Psalms 4 and 4; Daniel 2:17-30; and I John 2:12-17)