It's not very often through scripture that we hear Jesus, in his own words, talking at length with His Father. Oh, yes, there are many significant chunks of text in red, of how He talks to others, and how He teaches us to pray, but most of His time spent talking to God (in prayer) is not recorded. He slipped away into the night and early morning to be alone with God, and His disciples seemed to favour sleep over eavesdropping.
So what to make of this extended monologue, between Father and Son?
We know from the context (his disciples and others were present as he prayed) that it's definitely a prayer intended for more than just God's ears. (I find this rather endearing, as I've rolled my eyes many a time a folks who like to add a little pharisee to their public petitions of prayer - more sermonizing than supplication tends to occur!).
But this is much more than a sermon, dressed up as a prayer. The lovely thing about it is that Jesus is simultaneously putting into action the very thing he is talking about in the prayer:
I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 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. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 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. (John 17:21-23)
What does this mean? He is after complete unity: you in me, I in you, them in us, one as we are one, loved as you have loved...it's a circle that grows ever tighter as he prays.
With one look heavenward, and this prayer, Jesus opens up His innermost circle to us - we are privy to the direct conversation between Jesus and His father, and invited to be a part of that ever-flowing dialogue.
A good friend of mine was talking about how important it is to open our circles of conversation to practice unity as a church. She talked about practical rule of no private conversations on a Sunday morning - every time a new person walks into range, instead of hoping for them to pass on without stopping, you reach out to them and say, "We were just talking about this issue/this policy/this idea. What do you think?" Overtly, you are making a statement about how everyone has a voice, and covertly, you are actually shifting the habits of conversation to ones that build unity - how can you, in good conscience, be gossiping or complaining or indulging in petty intrigue or selfish grievance when your conversational circle is fluid, and permeable, open to new comments and new faces?
I think back to when the Hollywood lease agreement was still in the discussion phase - and suddenly, we had a palatable offer from the owner and we had to make an immediate decision. The news came late in the day as I was getting my bike gear on and preparing to leave the office, while our pastor was just making some coffee in the kitchen, and our accountant was just on his way in, so right then and there, while staff, a homeless visitor, and a handful of diverse members of our community were all working and chatting and moving about in the main sanctuary, the Hollywood committee was talking freely in the flow of this activity - open conversation, open ears, open dialogue.
Jesus made the one thing that many have tried to corner the market on - open communication with God himself - readily available to us. He wasn't interested in exclusivity - or making us press our ears up to the door in hopes of catching a snippet or two of precious conversation. Rather, the circle is wide open, and we are invited in - an all-access pass called unity:
That they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. (John 17:22)
Take some time today to think about the places you practice exclusivity in our community, and pray that God may reveal to you the wonder and glory and freedom of His unity - step into that with boldness and reverence, and don't hoard it. Invite others along with you - Jesus did that day as he prayed in John 17, he still does, and he invites us to do likewise.
- Sarah Kift