Even if I do testify on my own behalf, my testimony can be verified, because I know where I came from and where I am going. But you do not know where I come from or where I am going. You judge by appearances, but I do not judge anyone. And even if I should judge, my judgment is valid, because I am not alone, but it is I and the Father who sent me.
John 8: 14-16
What is the standard by which our place and work in the world is to be judged? Wherein does authenticity lie? To whom are we, in the last analysis, responsible? Is power, as Nietzsche and Adler suggest, the ultimate goal of human striving, or is our power at the service of a deeper human goal?
In today’s gospel Jesus makes clear that his testimony to his life can be trusted because “I know where I came from where where I am going.” Everything he does and says is in service to the will of his Father. His authority and power reside in the very nature of his activity as service to the Father’s will.
As surely as the pulsations of our culture and the impulses of our vital drives influence our behavior, so too is personal ambition a driving force in our lives. We have a powerful need and desire to have power and influence, to be acknowledged and recognized. It is Jesus’ threat to the status and power of the scribes and pharisees that is the source of much of their conflict. What Jesus points out to them today is that he is not in competition with them, but rather he is merely doing what he must do in obedience to the Father’s will. He is doing the work that he has been given to do. Our responsibility to the Father and fidelity to the task we have been given is, in fact, the measure of our authenticity and truthfulness.
In the United States we are currently in the midst of yet another seemingly endless political season. Our candidates for office are running for diverse reasons. Some, clearly, are running for the sake of the power they need in order to have a sense of personal significance; others are running as surrogates of the wealthy and powerful to whom they are beholden; others, hopefully, are running out of a sense of being called to serve the greater good of the society and of humanity as a whole. The problem a relativistic culture faces is its inability to appraise the difference among them. In a culture that has essentially lost its transcendent moorings, the measure available is that of competing self-interest and gratification. Like the scribes and pharisees we seem to have lost the capacity to recognize fidelity and authenticity in another.
Perhaps that is true because we fail to work consistently at verifying our own authenticity. For whom are we working? How do we measure the degree to which we are serving our ambition for its own sake or putting it at the service of the unique life task that God has given us? Are we consistently mindful of where we came from and where we are going? Our lives are not random and incoherent. Our true and unique spiritual identity is ultimately a task and assignment from the Father for the sake of the world. We as individuals, and even humanity as a whole, are not the measure of all things. The measure is the creative love and work of God and our small but significant role in that work.
How wholeheartedly do we give ourselves to the task before us? How do we react and respond to setbacks in our work and the criticism of others? How willing are we to forego recognition and credit for success in our work? How much effort are we willing to give to serve the efforts of others for which we personally shall never receive recognition? How willing are we to adapt our goals and ambitions to the common good? These are some of the questions that can help us to judge the truth and authenticity of our work. Each day may we become increasingly faithful and committed to the unique work that God has given us to do.
Following is an excerpt of a letter of Dag Hammarskjold to the novelist Par Lagerkvist. In it Hammarskjold speaks of his sense of responsibility for the authority and power he has been given as Secretary General of the United Nations.
The unique, totally underserved gift I have been given is the opportunity to engage in a decisive way in one of the greatest experiments of mankind and of this era. It is incredible to know that everything you can do, insofar as possible, too bring this experiment to maturity, even if it should fail, contributes to laying the foundation of something that has to succeed in the end.
When I say “everything,” I mean things big and small, where quality is concerned, nothing in this work is meaningless, not even the most insignificant details, since the fate of the experiment and the success of this offensive into unknown territory are decided by the strength at the weakest point in the total effort. The satisfaction this gives at every moment, and facing every difficulty, of course means that only in moments of physical weariness do you shrink away in disbelief from the blows received, the stings, which are also part of day-to-day experience. They would be evil only if you let yourself be affected by them, by creating bitterness or affecting the direction of action itself. You can be quite relaxed; there is no risk that I’ll lose perspective.
I regard it as naivete if people believe that you can keep a position like this out of vanity or motives of that kind. In light of what I’ve said, you see that I am happy for every moment I have this task and am given these possibilities, but also that it would be treason to have this feeling of happiness if I weren’t ready to give up the position at the very moment I felt that would be the right thing for the sake of the overall undertaking. It would also be treason if I permitted the wish to continue in any way to influence how I carry out my task. Here the circle joins: those who question my motives and at the same time amuse themselves by taking pot-shots at what is being achieved are tempters in the sense that if I were affected by their pot-shots they would be right to cast suspicion on me.
from Roger Lipsey, Hammarskjold: A Life, p. 333