“I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” John 17:26
Do you hear him? He prays for us? We’re listening to Jesus’ final prayer for his disciples, and for us, just before he is betrayed and arrested. It is his prayer before he leaves them, and in it he spreads and extends the circle of belonging like concentric circles to include those who will believe through their word (us), and to the world. Verse 23 states, “so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
John’s Gospel is clear in its purpose that these things are written so that those who contemplate these stories will believe, and that belief will lead to life. What kind of life? Life in his name. Our passage points to what it means to have life in his name.
The key themes are unity, glory, a place with Jesus, and a mysterious gravity around a name. That name is the very nature of God. In the Old Testament, to know someone’s name was to have some kind of power over them or to share intimacy in relationship with that person. When Moses first asked God’s name at the theophany of the burning bush, the reply was, “I am who I am” or “I am who I will be.” The unpronounceable Jewish name for God (YHWH) implies God is beyond our knowing or control.
However, our passage is in conversation with Exodus 33 and 34, a section of the Old Testament sharing the same themes: unity with God - the renewed covenant takes place after Moses’ encounter with God from the cleft of the rock; glory – implying God’s presence, a place with God – where Moses will lead them, and the revelation of the name which brings intimate knowledge of God’s nature.
Moses prayed, “…show me your ways, so that I may know you and find favor in your sight (vs 13).” And then even bolder, “Show me your glory” (vs 18). And the LORD told Moses he would pass by and declare his name, “The LORD.” But when the LORD passed before him he proclaimed his name and nature: “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, yet by no means clearing the guilty, but visiting the iniquity of the parents upon the children and the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation” (34:6-7).
To know the name of God is to know his nature and his ways. Now we can understand the significance of Jesus praying “I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” God himself has passed by, and as John put it in the prologue, “Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (1:14).
Jesus’ final prayer reveals this name that does more than just make the Father known. Living life in his name means we are drawn into the orbit of divine love and union between the Father and Son, which extends to us through the Holy Spirit. Knowing the name leads to mystical union, an intimate and life-giving relationship drawing all creation into Trinitarian love at the heart of all things. It is God’s very life – Love.