The following is taken from my commentaries on the Gospel of John, which are appended to my restoration of the original text (before it was heavily edited by early Christian leaders to conform it to their dogma that turned Jesus into a Roman-style godling) and translation of that text from the original Greek. This is a work in progress; feedback is most welcome, and people are encouraged to get the book when it comes available, by the end of this year.
In Jesus’s pastoral prayer following the Last Supper (Gospel of John chapter 17), he says (in my translation from the Greek): “And I made your name known to them and I will (continue to) make it known … that they all may be one (just) as we are one: (just) as you, Father, (are) in me and I in you, I in them and you in me, that they may be perfectly one…”
For Jesus, and Jews of his time (and indeed many classical cultures worldwide), to refer to someone’s name was not merely to the vocalization which is semiotically associated with them, but to the person’s teaching and example; thus to give even a cup of cold water in Jesus’s name (Matthew 10:42) or Kṛṣṇa’s name (Bhagavad-Gita 9:26) is to do it as that person’s disciple.
More than that, names in all traditional (non-Western) cultures are powerful, magic spells in a sense that evoke their spiritual presence. In this gospel, the Name of God (as mentioned in these three verses) is the πνευμα, the Divine Breath that is also the Divine Wind and the Divine Spirit that blew in Creation (Genesis 1:2) and many times upon the prophets. Josephus calls it the “four vowels” of the Name of God, יהוה, the exhalation. Since all other names can only be spoken by exhaling, the Name of God is hidden inside every other name. This, as it is put in The Circle of Life, “Those who keep the traditional ways know that spoken words can carry a little glint of moonlight – a tiny sliver of the silent Word, the exhaled breath, the divine Name of G-d spoken in the beginning that echoes still in everything that exists.” And our sacred names, known only to God, are, as the same book says, “ultimately one name, and point to the same Spirit that is in us all.” Therefore, Jesus would agree with this Apache proverb: “It makes no difference as to the name of the God, since love is the real God of all the world.”
In the decades after Jesus, those who claimed to be his followers took the path of separating from Judaism and establishing a strong central authority, and imposing from above on their followers a you-must-believe-it-or-else dogma. This dogma would have us believe that Jesus is God, the second person in the Trinity. Many passages in the New Testament (which, with the exception of Pauline and post-Pauline texts, was written free of this dogma) were then either interpreted or even edited to conform to this doctrine.
These verses serve as an example. They clearly state that Jesus believed not merely that he and God were one (the phraseology that these dogmaticians insisted supported their Jesus-equals-God creed), but that he and all humanity were one in God. This view is perfectly in line with other passages in the gospel, including especially 1:12. What Jesus believed was unique about himself was not that he was God incarnate, but that he had been appointed by God as God’s Messenger (αγγελος, “angel”) and Prophet προφητης (“prophet”, literally meaning “speaker on behalf of”), hence as Messiah. This was, in his view, far from an exclusive relationship; Jesus repeatedly stresses in this gospel that he wishes those who have heard the Word (Λογος) that he brings, those who believe “in my name” (meaning in his teaching and example), to go out themselves doing the same as he did: urging people to accept the Λογος of God and thereby recognize their universal oneness in God.
Therefore, far from what the Church was going to start dictating in a generation or two, this is the central statement of the central theological theme in the gospel. Today, the theology that Jesus states here is known by the terms “immanence” and “monism”.
Immanence is the belief that the divine manifests itself and and through the physical universe. It is not to be confused with pantheism, the belief that God equals all things, but panentheism, in which the sacred realm permeates the mundane. In this sense, all things, including you and me – even a turd in the road, as in the famous example of Chuang-tse – are imbued with the presence of holiness. This is a concept found frequently in Jewish philosophy, and therefore it would not at all be unlikely for Jesus to voice it. It is also found in the East, in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism especially, and these verses are often taken as support of the theory that Jesus travelled to India and Tibet in his early adult years.
Monism is the belief that all things only appear to be discrete, and that beneath such outer appearances of separateness all things are ultimately one. This view is not frequently found in Jewish thinking, but it is also a mainstay of Eastern philosophy.
Both of these perspectives are prominent in these verses, as they are in another very early text containing Jesus’s teachings, the Gospel of Thomas. Logion 77 in the latter reads: “Jesus said, ‘I am the light over all things. I am all; all came forth from me, and all have attained to me. Split a piece of wood, I am there. Lift up a stone and you will find me there.’” Very likely, as in the Gospel of John, Jesus is here talking in I AM language, not so much speaking for himself as a man but speaking for God, as God’s messenger (αγγελος, “angel”) or prophet (προφητης, literally, someone who speaks on behalf of a king or God), saying directly and exactly the words of God. That there is light in all things is part of Kabbalistic Jewish thought, the Shviras Hekeilim (“Shattering of the Vessels”): God concentrated part of Godself into vessels of light in order to create the universe. But these vessels shattered, and their shards became sparks of light which became trapped, one within each thing in creation. Prayer charges and reveals these hidden sparks, reuniting them with God.
As noted in the commentaries to 14:2, this was also the philosophy of Martin Buber, who saw God as playing “hide and go seek” with us, hiding in every leaf and stone and flower and begging us to come and look for the Almighty in even the humblest of things around us. And once we see that Presence, like finding the face hidden in a puzzle drawing of a landscape, we can never “unsee” it again, and we wonder how we could ever have possibly not seen it before. Thus it is, as noted above, that all ordinary names, including yours and mine, have the Name of God hidden in them, in the very Breath (πνευμα) with which we pronounce them.
Referring to Thomas 77 and these verses in John, Rod Borghese says Jesus taught that: “You too are one with the All – a part of the tree, a part of the stone. And that the light exists even within a branch and even beneath a rock and within a rock. When you study science you see this is so. We all come from one source of light, one tiny speck of Light.” He adds this profound observation: “The only thing that sets Jesus apart [from other spiritual masters] is that he was crucified for saying ‘Ì am one with God. … He had followers – netzarim – who recorded his sayings, and some of those followers thought he was saying ‘Ònly I am one with God,’ when he actually said that anybody could realize the oneness of God, and therefore do greater things than Jesus.” Yet, “if you walk around today saying you are the All, you are God, or even you are one with God, you would probably also be crucified.”