Why does John 17 read the way it does? I’ve probably asked that question at least weekly over the last six plus years. Of all the things that could capture Jesus’ prayer attention hours pre-crucifixion, why this? Here’s my November 28, 2017 answer.
Unity only goes as far as humility takes it, and humility is the issue. Jesus humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:5-11). It takes humility to do what Jesus did. He could have called on the angels to rescue him at any point in his excruciating journey, and they would have. Divine restraint, divine humility – that’s what held him on the cross, not nails. Humility was on Jesus’ mind.
What does the Christian life look like, according to the Christ after whom we take our name? Take up your cross daily, and follow me… (Luke 9:23). The same picture of humility that Jesus was about to endure, he calls us to. Humility is a death to self. The self doesn’t willingly leap onto a cross – only the power of God enables it to do so.
Without humility, we don’t become Christian in the first place. As long as I’m lord and savior of my own life, Jesus won’t sound like good news. It’s only when I realize that I’ve made a mess by being lord of my own life, that I need someone Bigger and Stronger than me to save me and reorient my life… that’s when I invite Jesus to occupy my heart’s throne.
And it’s the same humility that draws us into unity. As long as the foot (Lutheran) has no need of the hand (Baptist), there will be no impetus for unity. As long as the arm (mega-church) has no need of the eye (inner city mission), isolation will be the name of the game. As long as the elbow (greatest generation) looks down on the kneecap (millennial), competition will be our DNA, not humble unity. But when we truly realize that we aren’t “all that”, that we’re incomplete without others, that others’ perspectives help us discover our own blindspots, it’s then that we start growing and maturing. THAT’s why John 17 is what it is.
For us doing the unifying, it will feel like and revolve around humility. But for the watching world, what they’ll see is unity, a body wildly diverse in its parts, yet loving one another in ways that clearly surpass human origin.
If John 17 could have been improved upon, Jesus would have made the upgrades before praying it. In 2000 years we haven’t found a “new and improved” John 17, and the next 2000 years won’t produce one either. Jesus knew exactly what he was doing every step of his journey to the cross, including the steps played out on his knees in prayer.