[Graduate Baccalaureate Mass. ADDU Assumption Chapel, 28 April 2018. Based on John 10:22-30]
At your Baccalaureate Mass on the long-awaited day of your graduation, after all the investment you have made in higher graduate education, you are confronted with a command. But it is a command to what really cannot be commanded, because what is commanded cannot be forced. It is the command that is central to the Gospel of St. John. Jesus says. “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father in me, or else believe me for the sake of the works themselves” (Jn 14:11).
First, Jesus is saying as it were, “Believe me, because I say so, because you have come to know me, and because I have come to know you. Believe me, because I am here before you, I am here for you, looking into your eyes and looking into your soul.” Jesus says: “Let your heart not be troubled. As you believe in God, believe also in me” (Jn 14:1). Believe me because you have been given to me by the Father (Jn 17:6.9), because you are “born of God” (Jn 1: 13) from above, and you therefore know that what I am saying is true. “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father in me.” “The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own authority…” (Jn 14:10a) but of the Father’s, and that “I have not spoken on my own but the Father who sent me has commanded me what to say and how to say it.” (Jn 12:49, cf. Jn 7:16). Presupposed is the profundity of the Johannine Prologue: Jesus is the Word of the Father: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning God. All things were made through him, and without him nothing has been made … He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to his own, and his own did not receive him. But as many as received him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name: who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” The command to belief covers Jesus’ startling revelations of himself in the Gospel: I am the light of the world (Jn 8:12). I shine on those who dwell in darkness. I am the Bread of life. Eat me, and you will no longer hunger. (Jn 6:48-51). I am the source of living water. Drink me and you will never thirst (Jn 3:14). I am the door to the flock. (Jn 10:7). He who enters the sheepfold other than through the door is a thief. I am the Good Shepherd. I lay down my life for my sheep” (Jn 10:11). I am the true vine (Jn 15:1). Unless you remain in me, you can do nothing. I am the Lord and Master. But I am he who washes your feet (Jn 13:14). I am the Son of Man to be lifted up (Jn 3:14). In being lifted up I draw all peoples to myself (Jn 12:32). I am the Resurrection and the Life (Jn 11:25).
Believe Jesus that he and his Father are one, because he says so. Or believe him because the works, the signs, testify to its truth. The works are much more than just manifestations of extraordinary supernatural power. They are signs of unity between Jesus and Father. They manifest not only Jesus’s access to the Father’s power, but in Jesus they manifest the Father responding to the needs of people in the world. Jesus’ use of his Father’s power to provide wine for the embarrassed couple at the marriage feast of Cana is the Father’s desire that the newlyweds and their families not lose face. Jesus’ angry cleansing of the temple is the Father’s dismay that his house had been defiled in being used as a marketplace (Jn 2:13-17). Jesus’ healing of the man born blind is the Father’s desire that this man see, and his revelation that healing a human being is of more importance than the Sabbath observance (Jn 9:1-7). Jesus’ feeding of the 5000 hungry persons is the Father’s way of introducing Jesus as the Bread of life offered up – lifted up – to still the deepest hunger of all of humankind (Jn 6). Jesus’ extraordinary eloquence at the synagogue despite the tense opposition from the Pharisees is the Father’s truth manifested in Jesus as a two-edged sword (cf Jn 7:46). Jesus’ compassion for the woman caught in adultery is the Father’s forgiveness for sinners who repent of their sins (Jn 8:3-12). Jesus’ ultimate self-sacrifice on the Cross manifests the Father’s redeeming love for the world (Jn 19; Jn 3:16).
“Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father in me, or else believe me for the sake of the works themselves” (Jn 14:11).
For persons privileged to have fulfilled the requirements for higher academic degrees at the Ateneo de Davao University, hopefully this is not just pious gibberish.
When Jesus introduced himself as the Bread of Life, many of his disciples were scandalized and just walked away. The reaction for some of you may be similar, when you hear Jesus ask, “Will you too go away?” His remaining disciples respond, “Lord, to whom shall we turn? You have the words of eternal life.” (cf. John 6:66-68). You may think this has no relevance for your sophisticated erudite concerns, and be tempted yourselves to walk way.
But hopefully, higher studies in pursuit of truth have given you the opportunity and space not only to increase your professional knowledge and skills but also to reflect on the larger questions of your life: at your age and station, do you now have a satisfying grasp of life’s meaning, of life’s finality? Is it clear where you are going, and what you wish to achieve? Do you have insight into what is required of you for a life of integrity? Have you mastered the art of loving, the joys of giving, the challenge of discerning the requirements of the common good?
Or, even with your job, your career, your marriage, your children, is there an experience of a yet gnawing hunger within for something unsatisfied by the monthly food budget? In running life’s hectic race to keep up with all of its requirements, including the expectations of your spouse and your children, do you thirst exceedingly for something else? As you confront the conflicts, contractions and compromises in yourself, do you sometimes find yourself sweating cold in darkness where you come to realize you no longer like yourself? If so, far from walking away from Jesus, you may wish to turn to him. “I am the Bread of life” he says, “Take and eat.” “I am the source of Living Water,” he says, “Take and drink. “I am the Light.” he says. Vanquish the darkness! As I am lifted up on my Cross, I draw you to myself, I take you to heart. “Believe, that my joy may be in you, and your joy may be complete” (Jn 15:11).