JOHN 17 IS CONSTANTLY cited in ecumenical circles. Jesus prays for “those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you… to let the world know that you sent me” (17:20-23). The implication is that by supporting the ecumenical movement wholeheartedly one is bringing to pass the fulfillment of Jesus’ prayer.
It is an important prayer. But note what else he prays for in this chapter:
(1) Jesus prays that God will protect his first disciples from “the evil one,” especially now that he himself is being removed from the scene (17:11, 15). Perhaps he is especially thinking of the terrible blows to their faith as their Master is crucified and buried.
(2) Jesus prays that his disciples will be sanctified by the truth — understanding well that God’s word is truth, and that the very purpose of his own sanctification (i.e., he “sanctifies” himself — sets himself apart for his Father’s holy purposes — by obeying his Father and going to the cross) is that they may be sanctified (17:17-18).
(3) Jesus prays that both this first disciples and those who will ultimately believe through their message will be “in us [i.e., ‘in’ the Father and the Son] so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (17:21).
(4) Jesus declares he wants all those the Father has given him to be where he is, and finally to see his glory, the very glory the Father gave him because the Father loved him from “before the creation of the world” (17:24).
In addition, of course, Jesus prays that his disciples may all be one. It would be nice if all those who emphasize this petition emphasized the other petitions no less — or, for that matter, that all those who emphasize, say, the second petition in the list above also emphasized the prayer for unity.
The question to ask, however, is whether Jesus’ prayers are answered. Does not Jesus elsewhere attest that he knows full well that the Father always “hears” him (11:42)? Certainly the Father protected all of the earliest disciples, except, of course, for Judas Iscariot, whom even Jesus in his prayer acknowledges is “doomed to destruction” (17:12). The other petitions are likewise being answered, and will be finally answered at the consummation. This is true also of Jesus’ prayer for unity: real Christians attest a profound unity, a real unity, regardless of hierarchical structures and often in defiance of ecumenical initiatives, in answer to Jesus’ prayer. This often attracts others to the Gospel. We must hunger and strive for the fulfillment of all of Jesus’ petitions.