Historical Cultural Context
Unity of Believers
John’s Jesus very pointedly prays for the “insiders,” that is, for his disciples and for those “who will believe in me through their word” (Jn 17:20). It was also the “insiders” who received the new commandment “to love one another” (Jn 13:34).
A key element in both passages (Jn 17:21 and Jn 13:34), however, is that Jesus serves as the model. Disciples ought to love one another to the degree that Jesus loves those who believe in him: to the point of death. The community of believers in Jesus ought to strive for unity like that which exists between Jesus and the Father.
That Jesus prays to the Father for this unity very clearly demonstrates its origins. The unity he desires is not the result of harmonious human interaction, or the end product of a human growth-and-development seminar.
No, unity is a gift that flows down from the Father and Son to believers. It is precisely the organic and vital unity of the Father and Son that Jesus wants to communicate to believers.
The proper response to this gift of life and unity from Father and Son is mutual love among members of the community. Outsiders will be amazed and moved (or motivated) by what they see. “By this [all the outsiders] will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35).
This is not to say that “the world” will automatically be converted or resolve to make a positive decision relative to Jesus. Rather, “the world” will receive from the community what Jesus himself gave: a challenge to recognize God in him, God’s pleasure with his behavior, and God’s approving action on his behalf in the resurrection.
Only such a mighty act of God could effectively undo the shame of the crucifixion. Believers, like Jesus, must keep the challenge ever before nonbelievers.
John J. Pilch
John J. Pilch is a biblical scholar and facilitator of parish renewals.
Liturgical Press has published fourteen books by Pilch exploring the cultural world of the Bible
**From Saint Louis University