Jesus prays to his Holy Father expressing his desire for all to be united in the love they share. The prayer in John 17 is theologically dense and repetitive. When reading it you can feel your mind attempting to follow ‘who is glorifying whom’ and ‘who is in whom’ and you end up in a tangle. It is important to get tangled up in these words. The forms of repetition and return intertwine Jesus’ prayer into a nearly impenetrable knotted mass as it traces the love of the God. The giving and receiving of this love is what knits everything together.
The Father and the Son are perfectly one and this is what Jesus desires for us. Jesus asks on our behalf: “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. ” (John 17:11) This desire for unity is the heart of love. Love is the giving of ones self and the reception of an other. Separate selves are united as one in love. The relationship that exists within the Trinity is one of pure love, that fully gives and receives, there is a mutual indwelling of the Father, Son, and Spirit to the point the three are one.
The notion of giving and receiving is picked up in John 17:8 “the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you, and they have believed that you sent me.” Jesus has given us the words God gave him, but in the ultimate form of love Jesus Christ as the Word (who was with God and was God, in the beginning) gave himself over to us and received our otherness, our sin, upon the cross.
In Jesus Christ’s passion we can see the fullness of his love for us. He gave himself entirely. He gave himself unto death, but he doesn’t just give he also receives. Though he was without sin he received our sin and death though it was entirely other to him. Jesus Christ intimately knows that which set us apart from him he experienced the fullness of it upon the cross and within the grave. God’s love is so great that he can enfold our sin into his loving triune being.
What sets this whole prayer off is found in John 17:3, “this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Eternal life is to know God. To know God is to know love supreme. Eternal life is to be so enwrapped by God’s economy of love, a love the eternally gives of itself and fully receives the beloved into it’s life.
God’s love is infinite and we who are finite creatures are called to be one with each other and God. But rather then receiving this gift of eternal life and love we all too often turn within ourselves and to nothingness. We are selfish and broken people. We are slow to give and quick to take. Rarely do we properly receive a gift. We think of gifts of love as more of an exchange, that we somehow deserved them or have earned them. But what we would earn from our sin and selfishness is a brief life with broken relationships followed by a death of eternal isolation from love. Jesus does not want us to die alone. His love is one that always prioritizes the beloved. He seeks to be united with us precisely at our points of infidelity. He unites himself with us in his incarnation, death, and resurrection. The Trinity is a knot of love and Jesus prayer in John 17 desires to knit us within it. Now, will we receive this love and give ourselves over to him, so that we who are many may become one.