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A Message on John 17:22-23

A Message on John 17:22-23

by The Reverend Dr. Roman D. Roldan on June 12, 2024

TLDR: The unity of the Church is central to our identity as a New Creation in Christ, the Messiah. Please read below for more.

On June 9th, I was invited to preach at an ecumenical service at the Village at Gleannloch Farms. Fr. Jose, a Catholic priest from Saint Ignatius of Loyola, and I were each given two verses from John 17 and asked to preach for ten minutes. Verses 22-23 read the following way:

“The glory that you have given me, I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

This passage reminds me of an old joke by comedian Emo Phillips, which was voted by the website Ship of Fools as the best religious joke of old time back in 2005. You will be familiar with it because I have used it before:  

Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, “Don't do it! He said, "Nobody loves me." I said, "God loves you. Do you believe in God?"

He said, "Yes." I said, "Are you a Christian or a Jew?" He said, "A Christian." I said, "Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?" He said, "Protestant." I said, "Me, too! What franchise?" He said, "Baptist." I said, "Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?" He said, "Northern Baptist." I said, "Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?"

He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist." I said, "Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?" He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region." I said, "Me, too!"

Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?" He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912." I said, "Die, heretic!" And I pushed him over.

As a way of introduction, Jesus and the disciples are in the upper room, the last supper has ended, and now Jesus voices a long prayer on behalf of the disciples, a prayer that takes the whole chapter. After this, they will march to the garden, where he will be arrested. My brief passage starts with the following statement, “The Glory that you have given me, I have given them!” This begs the question, “What Glory has the Father given to Jesus? What does GLORY mean here?” According to theologians Gregory of Nissa (Antiquity, 335-395) and D. A. Carson (Modern, Canada, 1947-) as well as many others, in the Gospel of John the Holy Spirit becomes the means by which Christ remains present with his disciples while he bodily ascends to heaven. “Put simply, Christ remains present Spiritually through the Spirit’s work of uniting believers to Christ.”[1] Paul affirms this reality as well: “Whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit” (1 Cor 6:17). Also, “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body” (1 Cor 12:13). And “We all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor 3:18). It is the job of God’s Holy Spirit to transform us into the full image of Christ, the perfect human who has introduced God’s new creation.  

“It seems very apparent to many theologians that in the Gospel of John Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit by the name of Glory.”[2] Jesus says, “The glory you have given me, I have given them.” This expression “I have given them” almost implies that Jesus has already given his disciples his Spirit, but we know that in John that this doesn’t happen until the evening of his resurrection when he appears in their midst and breathes on them his Holy Spirit. The Perfect Tense of the verb possibly means an action of the past that continues to have effects in the present. For example, when Jesus says, “I have loved them to the end,” he doesn’t mean that the end has come, after all, he hasn’t died and risen yet. What he means is I loved them at the beginning, I love them today, and I will love them after I am gone, to the end. So, I imagine Jesus saying, “I have shared the Spirit with them these last three years, I will give them my Spirit after the resurrection, I will give them the same Spirit in a more powerful way at Pentecost, and I will continue to give them the Spirit everyday even to the ends of the age.”

Jesus then states that he has given this glory to them for one reason, there is a purpose for this gift: “That they may be one.” And then, in case the disciples do not understand what being one looks like, Jesus gives them an example. They must be one, “as the Father and I are one!” We could ask here, how are Jesus and his Father one? First, their union does not eliminate their individual identity. We know that the three persons of the trinity are distinct from one another, even as they are one reality. It is the same with the Church. We don’t all have to wear the same uniforms, be exactly alike, practice our rituals in the same exact ways, belong to the same culture or ethnic group, or even belong to the same denomination (Ephesians 4:4-6).

Then there is the issue of mission. We often hear words like Creator ascribed to the Father, Redeemer ascribed to the Son, and Sanctifier ascribed to the Sprit. These are not completely accurate, in that it is not so simple to isolate distinct responsibilities to each person of the Trinity, after all they are one unity and God can’t be divided. But these labels do point to the fact that each person of the Trinity has specific responsibilities in the life of the universe. Likewise, unity in the body does not mean that we all do the same tasks in the same exact ways. There are churches that emphasize political activism, others do a great job at social ministries (caring for those in need,) others concentrate primarily on the proclamation of the Gospel and evangelism, others focus primarily on those who already belong, others do medical ministries in hospitals and clinics, and others are primarily educators. As Paul would say, there are a variety of gifts the Holy Spirit gives us for the edification of the Church, “to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (Ephesians 4:12).

Unity does not eliminate difference, background, ethnicity, culture, local tradition, customs, and specific ways of doing biblical interpretation. Beyond all belief, all liturgy, all theology, all practice… there is something that must unite the entire Church and that is love. Love binds all parts of the body together. Love is the invisible life force of the Holy Trinity. Love inspired God’s creation of the universe, and love moved God to create a salvation plan to rescue humanity after the Fall, a salvation plan that led to Jesus. Love led Jesus to the cross for the salvation of the world. Love is and should be at the very core of the Church. It should be our DNA. Love across difference. Love in spite of difference. Love precisely because we are different.

Jesus himself tells us why the perfect unity of the Church in love is so important and so urgent. Unity has a purpose, “So that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” This is a two-part purpose. First our unity in love shows the world that Christ is truly the Messiah sent by God for the liberation of the world. Second, the unity of the Church in love shows the world how much God has loved them from the very beginning of creation. God’s love is so profound that God’s Son will go to the cross willing for the salvation of the world. He inaugurates a new creation where heaven and earth come together and God’s perfect will and love sustains God’s new creation.

The Church is a mirror that shows the Messiah to the world. That same mirror also shows the world the abundance and depth of God’s love. Sadly, our divisions, disputes, hatred, power-hungry ways, our tendency to go to bed with those in power, our petty disputes over cultural issues, and our tradition of erecting walls of separation between us and other parts of the body hurt God’s Holy Spirit. Today, Christ calls us to unity in love. This means “humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:2). Our mission is clear, and using Paul’s tendency to give us lists, I will give you mine: Civility, mutual service, respect of the other, acceptance of the other, love of neighbor, and a deep desire to introduce Christ to the world and to show a hurting, polarized, and divided planet how much God loves them.

May God help us to accomplish this. Blessings to all,

Fr. Roman+  

[1] https://wyattgraham.com/what-is-the-glory-that-jesus-gives-us-in-john-17-answer-the-holy-spirit/

[2] Ibid

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