I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be where I am, to behold my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
John 17: 23-4
Psalm 17:8 contains a striking and too often ignored image. The psalmist is threatened by enemies on every side, those whose intent is his or her destruction, and so pleads with God who is his or her only security: “Guard me as the apple of your eye./Hide me in the shadow of your wings..” The prayer of Jesus in John 17 expresses that each of us is, as is Jesus himself, the apple of God’s eye.
We know what it is for someone to be the apple of our eye. Perhaps it is our child, or our niece or nephew, or our spouse, or our closest friend. Perhaps it is a suffering or hungry child that we encounter or a student, client or patient whose heartfelt need or suffering has profoundly touched us. In any case, we know that this person has evoked in us a loving care which arises from our experience of his or her beauty,preciousness, and vulnerability. We have an “in-sight” into the inestimable value and fragility of the other, and we desire with all our heart to foster their personal flourishing in every respect.
At such a focal moment of relationship to a single other, we know, in an albeit limited way, something of the life and love of God. We realize that our own deepest well-being is somehow intimately related to the well being of this “apple of our eye.” We are not separate lives but rather a “common life.” This shared life is a life of “glory” which is the glory of God. “I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be where I am, to behold my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.”
What we experience when another is the apple of our eye is the life of God, that love between Father and Son (and all who have life in the Son) which is the glory of God. Each and every human person is, in fact, the apple of God’s eye. Although we only experience communion and community occasionally, the truth of the matter is that it is the reality of life and our conflict and separation is the illusion.
In John 17:23 Jesus says that the world will come to know that the Father sent him through the community of his disciples. We come to recognize God’s love for us and God’s life in us through the shared love and the communion of Jesus’ disciples. The foundation of that communion and community is not the virtue of its members or their physical or emotional affinity. It is rather their shared recognition that each other of them is the apple of God’s eye. It is an ability to trust in, even when unable to see or experience it, the beauty and value of the others.
We all realize that we would be hard pressed in our personal lives and in our shared lives, locally and globally, to attest to the truth that it is God’s love for each and all of us in common that is “the truth,” that to be where Jesus is to be “at one.” If our true home is together with Jesus, how come love is so difficult and communal living can seem so impossible? Could it be because the one whom we present to the world is not the one who is the apple of God’s eye? Each of us has a heart that beats with the life and the love of the heart of Jesus. As children of God in God’s son, we are all “beloved children.” Every day we read of or experience people who have become sociopaths or criminals, who have fallen into lives that appear to embody evil. We then so often hear from that person’s loving mother of one whom she knows who is so much more than the vile act that person has committed.
Each time we see or hear such a story, we should be given pause. To varying degrees each of us is often very different from the one whom God knows and sees, from the one who is the apple of God’s eye. Beyond our cynicism, our manipulation, our seduction, our ambition, our selfishness and intolerance there is the one whom God knows and sees, and who lives where Jesus lives. The world comes to know Jesus where those without pretense and with a willingness to try to love the others more than themselves come together in his name to create a space where the Father’s love can manifest in their common life. To live in love with and for others is the mission of Jesus: “so that the world may know that you sent me and have loved them, even as you have loved me.” We do not bring Jesus into the world. Rather, when we “lay down our arms” of suspicion, selfishness, and fear, and do our best to love each other, we allow the presence and love of Jesus, that is the world’s life, to show itself.
You should also note that his prayer was threefold, as St. John has described it for us in this same Gospel. He first prayed that we should be with him, so that we might see the glory which his Father had given him (Jn 17:24). It is for this reason that I said in the beginning that all good persons are united with God through the intermediary of God’s grace and their own virtuous life. God’s love is always flowing into us with new gifts. All who take heed of this are filled with new virtues, with holy exercises, and with all good things, just as I have told you previously. This union through the fullness of grace and glory, in both body and soul, begins here and lasts for all eternity.
Secondly, Christ prayed that he might be in us and we in him. We find this in many places in the Gospel. This is the union without intermediary, for God’s love not only flows outward but also draws inward toward unity. All who experience and perceive this become interior and enlightened persons and have their higher powers raised above all their exercises into their bare essential being. There these powers are simplified in their essential being, above reason, and thereby become full and overflowing. In this simplicity the spirit finds itself united with God without intermediary. This union, together with the exercises which are proper to it, will last for all eternity, just as I have said previously.
Thirdly, Christ prayed the highest prayer, namely, that all his beloved might be made perfectly one, even as he is one with the Father (Jn 17:23)—not in the way he is one single divine substance with the Father, for that is impossible for us, but in the sense of being one in the same unity in which he, without distinction, is one enjoyment and one beatitude with the Father in essential love.
Christ’s prayer is fulfilled in those who are united with God in this threefold way. They will ebb and flow with God and constantly stand empty in possession and enjoyment; they will work and endure and fearlessly rest in their superessential being; they will go out and enter in and find their nourishment both without and within; they are drunk with love and sleep in God in a dark resplendence.
Jan van Ruusbroec, The Little Book of Clarification, IIIB