Go … Transform Everything!
In my entire academic career, I have completed three significant set courses of study culminating in graduation—that is, high school, college, and graduate school. To date, I have spent officially 21 years of my life as a student. I am still a student in a way, still learning. I have also participated in two of three commencement exercises. I’ve always regretted not attending the third, but that was so long ago. I would advise against skipping your own graduation. And I don’t anticipate picking up another diploma at this point in my life. Now I remember a commencement address delivered by someone of importance at each graduation, but I don’t remember anything they said. I suppose it wasn’t really all that memorable. And this past week, I saw a salute to the class of 2014 on the evening news. It was a tight 5 minute human interest piece, a montage of video clips and still photos of the graduates and their families, and excerpts of speeches delivered by successful famous people. The speeches, I noticed, followed a predictable pattern. After telling the assembled graduates how simply completing their course of studies is in itself a tremendous achievement, the speaker reminded them that the real work was yet to begin. “Now that you possess the necessary tools of your trade, some rudimentary experience and technical know-how, and a healthy measure of self-confidence and determination, get out there, make us all proud, and change the world!”
Most graduation day celebrations focus on the great relief and joy the graduate experiences upon completing their academic requirements. But eventually, reality sets in. And when a new day dawns, the new graduate will have to face real-life challenges and a world where people are rigidly set in their ways, who don’t ever hand out a free lunch, and are out to break them and send them home to mom in tears. Okay, it’s not always that bad. Sometimes lunch is free, but you’re buying the next meal. So the fear of moving on is not entirely unfounded. Most graduates have heard horror stories from the classes ahead of them—a lousy job market, few interesting opportunities, rejection letters from post-graduate programs and hiring departments. But they will keep trying. They know it’s an uphill battle, or they soon find out. Eventually, they will be sharing their war stories with those who will graduate next year. The big difference is now they are wiser. They now have some idea what is and what is not worth the aggravation. They are a bit more patient, more discerning, and thicker skinned. Some of the idealism has worn off, but hopefully not the confidence and the desire to make something of themselves, and while they’re at it, to transform the world.
When Jesus gathered the Eleven back in Galilee, back where he launched his own public ministry, and on a mountain nonetheless, as many important events in salvation history take place upon a mountain, he was signaling a new chapter in their journey. His earthly ministry was complete. Theirs would now begin. “When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted.” They must have suspected he was up to something. And we all know what it’s like to worship even with lingering doubt in our hearts. Still they trusted enough to not walk away. “Go … make disciples of all nations … baptize … and teach. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” It was a kind of commencement address. And I’m sure they would have preferred a bit more time to learn, to gain more experience, and more confidence. But God had other plans. And it involved Jesus leaving and the Holy Spirit stepping in to pick up the slack. And when a new day dawned, they would have to face real-life challenges and a world where people were rigidly set in their ways, who didn’t ever hand out a free lunch, and were out to break them and send them home to mom in tears. And they would find out about the free lunch.
Today’s solemnity of the Ascension of Jesus to the right hand of the Father is a major milestone on the road to maturity for the community of Jesus’ followers. It was the only way for the disciples to finally live the reality of everything they had learned, by setting out on the journey themselves. Occasionally they might stumble. They might even make bad choices. But they would be wiser for the experience, because they would never stop learning, because the Holy Spirit had so much to teach. Jesus himself told them in the 14th chapter of John’s gospel that the Spirit would lead them into all truth. And twenty centuries later, the community of Jesus’ followers is still learning, and the Holy Spirit is still showing us the way.
Yet the truly important task Jesus entrusted to his church, beyond making disciples of all nations, beyond baptizing, and teaching, is to transform the world. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul picked up on the theme. “May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ … give you a Spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of him. May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call, what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones, and what is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe.” With that kind of divine mandate and the tremendous resources in the Holy Spirit at the ready, Jesus was sending the Eleven into the world well-equipped for success. And he tells us much the same as he sends us out into the world. “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” We have already received the Holy Spirit on the day of our baptism, and again at Confirmation, and really each and every time we call on the Father for the gift of his Spirit. So Jesus sends us to be his witnesses, to be bearers of his message of reconciliation and healing, of peace and justice, of courage and strength … to Jerusalem (meaning, at home), throughout Judea and Samaria (meaning, in your neighborhood), and to the ends of the earth (meaning, whatever isn’t covered in the first two). It seems like an impossible mandate. Basically, go … and transform everything! Leave no stone unturned, no challenge unmet, no life untouched. It is essentially the message of every commencement speaker. “Now that you possess the necessary tools of your trade, some rudimentary experience and technical know-how, and a healthy measure of self-confidence and determination, get out there, make us all proud, and change the world!”
Graduates, you may now move your tassel to the left.
Rolo B Castillo © 2014