James Hewett tells the following story (condensed): I was speaking at the Indiana State Prison. Thereafter we were led to five men who were awaiting their execution. It was a beautiful occasion for those condemned men and for us as we sang “Amazing Grace” together. One of the inmates, James Brewer, had the most radiant expression as he sang at the top of his voice. Then Brewer returned to his cell with one of our volunteers. When we were ready to leave, the two were standing shoulder to shoulder, reading the Bible together. “We’ve got to go,” I told our volunteer. Just a second, please,” he replied. “Sorry, time’s up, the plane is waiting.” “Please, please, this is very important,” the volunteer replied. “You see, I am Judge Clement. I pronounced the death sentence on this man. But now he is born again. He is my brother and we want a minute to pray together.” I was amazed. Here were two men, one black, one white; one powerful, one powerless; one who had sentenced the other to die. Yet there they stood grasping a Bible together, Brewer with a genuine smile and the judge filled with love for the prisoner at his side.
Just before Jesus was captured to be tried and crucified, He prayed for all of those who belong to Him: “I pray that they may all be one. Father! May they be in us, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they be one, so that the world will believe that you sent me. I gave them the same glory you gave me, so that they may be one, just as you and I are one: I in them and you in me, so that they may be completely one, in order that the world may know that you sent me and that you love them as you love me” (John 17:21-23).
In this final prayer of Jesus, according to John, He expresses his great desire for the faithful to be one. He prays it five times (also in verse 11)! To be one with someone means to identify closely with that person’s joy and sorrow. It means to be able to say: “Please, please … He is my brother and we just want to pray together for a minute.” Jesus prayed that we may be one “so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” Our unity with fellow-believers may thus determine whether people will be saved or lost.
Jesus’ relationship with his Father is perfect; they are one. So also is Jesus’ relationship with even the least of those who belong to Him: “And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me’” (Matt. 25:40). To be one with someone means more than just being good to that person. It means to be able to say: What you do to him, you do to me.
Dear Lord, help us to be one with our fellow-believers. We are children of the same Father; we have been redeemed by the same Jesus. Amen