At the 2013 Harvard Law School Commencement, the J.D. speaker, Josie Duffy, shared a beautiful insight from the beginning of her studies.
To set the stage, Josie related a story from one of the first orientation events for new students at Harvard Law. In Memorial Hall, Dean Martha Minow regaled the entering class by praising them for all of their incredible achievements, the reason they were admitted into Harvard’s hallowed gates.
These are people, Josie remarks, who have cured diseases, written books, and run small countries. At this moment, already feeling rather impressed by her remarkably talented classmates, Josie looked down and realized she was wearing her sweater inside out.
As she summarizes: “That was just the first of a number of moments filled with these deep feelings of inadequacy.” From my own seven years of campus ministry at Harvard, I know that Josie was speaking about a feeling shared by a considerable majority, if not all, of her classmates.
But the moment Josie wanted her graduating classmates to remember from that orientation session was a different moment. A better moment. The moment when Dean Minow said, “We searched the world for you.”
Josie explains the significance of these six simple words:
That was a big moment for me. I remember feeling completely thrilled and also totally overwhelmed with the idea that a place like Harvard Law School had searched the world and found me.
The rest of Josie’s faith contains some stirring and challenging observations. For instance, she admits, “I fear that skepticism is easier than faith for us.”
What is it about the human heart that we so easily resonate with Josie’s experience of Dean Minow’s welcome speech?
The feeling of inadequacy and insecurity when we compare ourselves to others more talented that we are. Who has not felt this?
And the rush of delight and joy when someone important searches us out, wants our opinion, desires to have someone like us join their organization?
I think that Dean Minow’s words of affirmation speak with power because they were echoes of a greater affirmation, the affirmation that has been given to us when God sought us out in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.
Isaiah 64 is a prophecy about Jesus. It reads like this:
1 Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down,
that the mountains might quake at your presence—
2 as when fire kindles brushwood
and the fire causes water to boil—
to make your name known to your adversaries,
and that the nations might tremble at your presence!
3 When you did awesome things that we did not look for,
you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.
4 From of old no one has heard
or perceived by the ear,
no eye has seen a God besides you,
who acts for those who wait for him.
5 You meet him who joyfully works righteousness,
those who remember you in your ways.
Behold, you were angry, and we sinned;
in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved?
This is an ancient hope.
The prophet knows he is inadequate compared to God. The prophet knows the whole nation is not worthy of God visiting them. This is the deepest angst and worry of the human heart.
Yet he still longs, “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down!” He aches for God to search the world for him. He is yearning for God to provide salvation.
In the Gospel of Mark, at the very beginning, we are told:
9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
When Jesus arrived, the heavens were finally torn open. God had arrived. He came to welcome sinners into his family. The New Testament epistles habitually call the followers of Jesus terms like “God’s chosen ones” (Col. 3:12), “brothers beloved by the Lord” (2 Thessalonians 2:13), and “beloved” (1 John 2:7).
Augustine famously said, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.” Until we find our spiritual home in God’s love, we will find ourselves constantly looking for affirmation from others. This creates a powerful trap. In our incessant need for affirmation, either we will happily boast, because Harvard has told us we are wanted, or we will despair, because we have not been so valued.
When we find our ultimate affirmation and acceptance in Christ, we are finally liberated to serve others, without regard to our own need to be wanted. That need is fully satisfied by knowing the salvation offered by Jesus.
Jesus has searched the world for you. He wants you to come home. His commitment to you is far greater than an education. He gave his own life on the cross to offer you a new life, a life filled with God’s love and salvation.
But respond we must.
After all, when Harvard Law School found Josie, they offered her a place in the Class of 2013. She accepted, moved to Cambridge, and ended up graduating with high honors as the J.D. speaker. The offer was no good unless she responded.
A more important offer has been made to you. Today, God is calling your name. He is offering you a place in His eternal kingdom. Will you accept His offer of salvation?