Remember that line from the exorcist when he says “I need a young priest and an old priest?” It was in Austin Powers as well, when Dr. Evil’s mechanical chair wouldn’t stop spinning around, he said, in that great voice, “I need a young priest and an old priest.” One of the neat things about being a young priest is that you tend to be, at least if you allow it, surrounded by old priests. There’s a lot of wisdom stored up in those old priests, and I consider it a terrible privilege to count some of the older guys as friends and mentors. I had a mentor right before seminary in an old priest named Fr. Baker. Fr. Baker had served in Europe in World War II and served his Church both in Europe and the U.S. By the time I met him he had slowed considerably, Parkinson’s had taken over much of his body and mind. Before I left for seminary, Fr. Baker had begun having more bad days than good, and in a lucid moment he felt the urgent need to tell me the story of one of his failures, his failure to go visit a man who was struggling with an illness, a man who died while Fr. Baker tarried. Fr. Baker died not long after telling me that story, his last urgent lesson for a young priest-in-the-making, to never wait.
Last urgent lessons are important; the lessons themselves are worth hearing of course, and they tell us a lot about the one giving the lesson. What we heard today in our Gospel lesson from John is essentially Jesus’ last will and testament, his last urgent lesson. We call it, along with the three whole chapters worth of lessons that came before it, the High Priestly Prayer, because so much of it is either actual prayer or lessons that sound like prayers.
And how did Jesus wrap up His prayer? By praying “for those who believe in me… that they may all be one.” That they all may be one, of one mind, together as one. But as my friend Fr. Steve Pankey pointed out this week on his blog Draughting Theology, there are now over 41,000 Christian denominations in the world; there are as many denominations in the world as there are people in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, a fact that I point out here only because I like saying the word Sheboygan.1
Something about all this didn’t sit right for Fr. Pankey, so he went on to look up the Greek word that Jesus uses for one. He came to “believe that being “completely one” isn’t quite what we think it means. The verb, which has its roots in telo, has a meaning more akin to the King James’ Version “made perfect…” or the Young’s Literal “perfected into one…” It is used by John in four more places:
+Then Jesus explained: “My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work. (4:34)
+The works that the Father has given me to complete, the very works that I am doing, testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me. (5:36)
+ I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. (17:4)
+After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished*, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.” (19:28)2
Notice the pattern here? Finished, complete, one. How far away are we from being finished or complete or one? Pretty far, right? But thankfully, the very last line of the very last thing Jesus said in that Upper Room after His last supper was a road map of sorts to becoming something finished, something complete, something at one with itself. Jesus prayed to His Father, talking about His disciples, “I made known to them thy name, and I will make it known, that the love with which thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
The love of God here is the cause, the motivator, to make God’s Name known to all the world, so that that same Name may be worshiped, adored, and loved by all people, so that Christ Himself may finish in us the work He came to do, to complete our salvation, to present us as one body to His Father on that last great day.
A last urgent lesson, confirmed and made real in Christ’s death, resurrection, and Ascension, given now to us: to love God and make His Name known in all the world, so that we all may be one.
1Fr. Steve Pankey, Completely One, Draughting Theology