Then the World Will Know

"I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one — I in them and you in me — so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me."

John 17:20-26

May 27, 2022, Words By: Ron Ruthruff, Image By: Blakely Dadson

Made Flesh

In all my time of writing for the Word From Below, in all the reflections I have submitted, I have never felt a text so relevant and impossible as the prayer of unity we find in our lectionary text this week. In my country, and in many places around the world, it seems that division is at the center of our cultures and our identities. It feels like our unity is defined by enemies — by what we stand against, more than what we stand for. Is that true unity? Is that where our identity should be found?

Here in John’s gospel, Jesus prays for unity in identity and for a vision of glory that would cause the world to know the Son was sent from the divine love we call God. Jesus prays that we see His glory, and that we would know this unbounded, death-destroying presence in our lives, just as Jesus knows the divine presence in His own. He asks that we would be one — in a deep, interdependent, identity-forming love, as He and the Father are one.

I keep asking myself, “What is this glory and unifying identity we are invited to share…this thing that lets the world know Jesus is in and from God?” The question leads me to another scriptural prayer that addresses Jesus’ glory, the Christ hymn of Philippians 2. 

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death —
        even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

This hymn challenges the church to imitate Jesus as he leads us in a counterintuitive journey towards unity, identity and glory.

I don’t know if we can get to unity in the world today. But personally, I continue to feel compelled to accept the Christ hymn’s invitation as the only path to unity. Jesus’ identity is in and from the divine life of God. Jesus knows the nature of God, and knows it isn’t striving, grasping or seizing power. 

Jesus does not empty himself of anything, somehow becoming less than God in his incarnate life. Rather he pours himself out, choosing to be in solidarity with the humiliated. What we see in Jesus is the very nature of God living among us. This is the path where we can find true unity and real identity. 

What’s interesting is that this Christ hymn feels both like a call to engage in the world and also a liturgy of disengagement, or healthy detachment. The Christ hymn calls me to a deep internal compass, an anchor that shapes identity – knowing who I am, and who I am not, in the divine life of God. 

And this identity formation leads to a life that one can live loosely in the world, a life that understands the ridiculousness of grasping and striving for power. It’s an invitation to participate in the prophetic posture that is solidarity with the humiliated, exposing the power of this world and energizing the vision of alternative community. This is the way of God, the Glory of God made known in the life of Jesus. 

Christian martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said. “He (Christ) does not lead people into a fantasy world of religious refuge, he gives believers back to the world as its true offspring. Do not be escapist, be strong.” 

If we want our unity to be more than a religious refuge protecting us from the wounds of the world, more than escapist theologies that foster the illusion of control, we must follow a different path. If we want our identity to be formed by more than what we are against, we must follow the path of Jesus, the counterintuitive journey of faith over certainty, hope over fulfillment, and love over power. It might feel like empty space, but there is room enough for everyone. 

About The Author

Ron Ruthruff