These chapters of farewell discourse (chs. 13–17) are brought to a fitting conclusion by Jesus’ prayer in chapter 17. This whole chapter is one long prayer directed by Jesus to the Father, his own solemn expansion, one might say, of the simple “Our Father” he taught his disciples in Matt 6 and Luke 11. Positioned between heaven and earth, between his Father and his disciples, Jesus prays for believers present and future. There are many schemas for understanding this chapter, however, it is perhaps best considered by simply following the context of Jesus’ prayer as follows:
- Father and Son
- Son and current disciples
- Son and future disciples
Father and Son (vv. 1–5): 1 When Jesus had said this, he raised his eyes to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come. Give glory to your son, so that your son may glorify you, 2 just as you gave him authority over all people, so that he may give eternal life to all you gave him. 3 Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ. 4 I glorified you on earth by accomplishing the work that you gave me to do. 5 Now glorify me, Father, with you, with the glory that I had with you before the world began.
In these five verses, Jesus speaks directly to his Father. The hour has come; the manifestation of the divine presence (glorification) is the task. Eternal life will consist in recognizing this divine presence. As the evangelist puts it in verse 3 — and this is his whole Logos, or word theology — “Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ.” To know God in the Son whom he has sent is eternal life. Jesus has manifested that presence on earth (v. 4) and will now return to that presence at the Father’s side (v. 5). He has finished the work given him to perform (v. 4). The true nature of God, which is love, is about to be manifested in Jesus’ self-sacrificing death.
Son and disciples (vv. 6–19): 6 “I revealed your name to those whom you gave me out of the world. They belonged to you, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything you gave me is from you, 8 because the words you gave to me I have given to them, and they accepted them and truly understood that I came from you, and they have believed that you sent me. 9 I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for the ones you have given me, because they are yours, 10 and everything of mine is yours and everything of yours is mine, and I have been glorified in them. 11 And now I will no longer be in the world, but they are in the world, while I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are. [end of the Gospel for 7th Sunday of Easter]
12 When I was with them I protected them in your name that you gave me, and I guarded them, and none of them was lost except the son of destruction, in order that the scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you. I speak this in the world so that they may share my joy completely. 14 I gave them your word, and the world hated them, because they do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world. 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world. 17 Consecrate them in the truth. Your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world. 19 And I consecrate myself for them, so that they also may be consecrated in truth.
Jesus’ conversation with the Father now turns to the subject of the disciples. To them has Jesus made known the Father’s name (presumably the I AM that the Father has shared with the Son), and they have accepted the word (v. 6) and the message (v. 8), believing that what Jesus has comes from him who sent him (vv. 7–8). In a word, they have believed in Jesus’ divine origin and divine union.
It is for these disciples that Jesus prays at this moment of departure in verses 9–19. He prays specifically:
— “keep them in your name that you have given me” (v. 11);
— “that they may be one just as we are one” (v. 11);
— “that they may share my joy completely” (v. 13);
— that the Father “keep them from the evil one” (v. 15);
— that he “consecrate them in the truth” (v. 17).
In paraphrase, what Jesus asks for his disciples is that they be protected by the immense divine power; that their unity resemble, and be based on, the intimate union of Father and Son; that their sorrow be changed into the divine joy that the Son reflects from his Father; that they be guarded from the prince of this world; and that they be truly consecrated — as is Jesus — in complete dedication to God’s service, which will be a mission to the world (vv. 18–19).
Son and future disciples (vv. 20–26): 20 “I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. 22 And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me. 24 Father, they are your gift to me. I wish that where I am they also may be with me, that they may see my glory that you gave me, because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25 Righteous Father, the world also does not know you, but I know you, and they know that you sent me. 26 I made known to them your name and I will make it known, that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them.”
For future disciples, Jesus prays for one central gift — unity: “that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you … that they also may be in us … that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one” (vv. 21–23). It will be only through this evidence of loving unity that the mission to the world (v. 18) can be effective; for only if the loving union of disciples is apparent can the world believe (v. 21), can the world know (v. 23) that the Father has sent Jesus and that the Father’s love can be found in the disciples as it can be found in Jesus himself (v. 23). Where this loving unity of disciples is found, there too will be found the company of Jesus (v. 24), the divine presence (v. 24), the power of the divine name, and the living love of both Father and Son (v. 26).
- Father. One cannot fail to note the frequent recurrence of “Father,” a total of six times (vv. 1, 5, 11, 21, 24, 25). This reflects Jesus’ own unique use of the Aramaic Abba (“loving Father”), with which he customarily began his prayer. Perfectly joined to the Father in oneness, he remains at all times the obedient and loving Son.
- Unity. The central motif of the prayer is that of unity — unity of present and future disciples, a unity modeled on that of Father and Son, a union that takes root from the love of Father and Son that is gifted to all disciples (v. 26).
- Love. There is strong insistence on love: the Father’s love for the disciples (v. 23), the Father’s love for Jesus (vv. 23–24), the Father’s love for Jesus and the disciples (v. 26). The Father’s love is the supreme revelation of the Gospel. Jesus, the incarnate Word, speaks the Father in one word — LOVE. Throughout this whole prayer, it is clear that the church is meant to be a community of love, the living sign or sacrament of the mutual love of Father and Son.
- The world. The “world” is mentioned seventeen times in these verses. It is the world of anti-world, the center of disbelief and hatred; the contrast and contradiction to what Christian living should be. Judas (v. 12) is an example of one to whom all was offered and rejected, one who experienced light and life but left it for darkness and death. While this world is not here the object of Jesus’ prayer, yet it is not a world for which Jesus has no hope or feeling. While the strong emphasis lies on prayer for Jesus’ actual and future disciples, verses 21 and 23 do pray that, through Christian unity, the world may believe and know that Jesus has been sent by a loving Father.
- Gail R. O’Day, John in the New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 9, ed. Leander E. Keck (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996) 739-46
- Scripture quotes from New American Bible by Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. © 1991, 1986, 1970