Just before he was arrested, a few hours before the Cross, Jesus prayed a magnificent prayer (John 17) for his disciples. He prayed also for us, “those who will believe in me through their message.”
This is, in fact, the only time that he mentions us – future believers – specifically. And we’re touched that his last thoughts before his ultimate sacrifice are for us, praying for our unity with God and with each other. But it’s also the only time when Jesus prays ‘negatively.’ He insists on what he’s not praying for, as if to avoid any misunderstanding with the Father, as if he is highlighting the risks inherent in this unity which is nonetheless so vital.
“My prayer is not that you take them out of the world” (v.15). Jesus is fully conscious of the danger of our seeking this unity by cutting ourselves off from the world, by building a wall around us to protect us from the enemy who governs this world. And we fall so easily into this trap. Our lives and our churches so often resemble fortified castles in which we take refuge.
We’re aware of our responsibility to reach the lost with the gospel, and we attempt, from time to time, to make an incursion into enemy territory. But we’re not taken seriously, and our impact on the world is often very limited. Society itself adds another barrier by relegating personal faith to the private sphere, and our community life to ecclesiastical structures which, though they may be officially recognized, are seen as disconnected from real life.