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Have Faith in God and Have Faith in Me

General Audience — October 21, 1987

The ensemble of the facts analyzed in the previous reflection provides eloquent and convincing proof of the consciousness of his own divinity shown by Jesus when he claimed for himself the name of God, the divine attributes, the power of final judgment on the deeds of all humanity, the power to forgive sins and the power over the law of God itself. They are all aspects of the one truth strongly affirmed by him, that of being true God, one with the Father. It is what he said openly to the Jews when speaking to them in the Temple on the feast of the Dedication, "The Father and I are one" (Jn 10:30). However, in attributing to himself what is proper to God, Jesus spoke of himself as Son of Man. He did this both because of his unity of person as man and as God, and to follow the pedagogy chosen to lead the disciples gradually, as though taking them by the hand, to the mysterious heights and depths of his truth. As "Son of Man" he did not hesitate to ask, "Have faith in God and have faith in me" (Jn 14:1).

The development of the whole discourse in chapters 14-17 of John, and especially Jesus' replies to Thomas and Philip, prove that when he asked them to believe in him, it was not merely a question of faith in the Messiah as the anointed one sent by God. It concerned faith in the Son who is one in being with the Father. "Have faith in God and have faith in me" (Jn 14:1).

These words must be examined in the context of Jesus' conversation with the apostles at the Last Supper, recorded by John. Jesus told the apostles that he was going to prepare a place for them in his Father's house (cf. Jn 14:2-3). When Thomas asked the way to that house, to that new kingdom, Jesus replied that he is the way, the truth and life (cf. Jn 14:6). When Philip asked that the disciples be shown the Father, Jesus replied with absolute clarity, "Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father?' Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own. The Father who dwells in me is doing his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe because of the works themselves" (Jn 14:9-1).

One cannot escape the grip which this statement of Jesus has on human intelligence unless one begins from an a priori prejudice against the divine. To those who admit the Father and sincerely seek him, Jesus showed himself and said, "Behold, the Father is in me!"

If motives of credibility were needed, Jesus appealed to his works, to all that he did before the eyes of the disciples and the whole people. These were holy and frequently miraculous works which served as a confirmation of his truth. For this reason he is worthy of belief. Jesus said so not only in the circle of the apostles, but also before the entire people. We read that on the day following his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the large crowd who had come for the paschal celebrations were discussing the figure of the Christ, and generally they did not believe in Jesus, "although he had performed so many signs in their presence" (Jn 12:37). At a certain point "Jesus cried out, 'Whoever believes in me believes not only in me but also in the one who sent me, and whoever sees me sees the one who sent me'" (Jn 12:44). It can therefore be said that Jesus Christ identified himself with God as the object of the faith asked of and proposed to his followers. He explained to them, "What I say, I say as the Father told me" (Jn 12:50). This is an obvious allusion to the eternal utterance whereby the Father generates the Word-Son in the trinitarian life.

This faith, linked to the works and words of Jesus, becomes a logical consequence for those who honestly listen to Jesus, observe his works and reflect on his words. But it is also the presupposition and indispensable condition which Jesus demands of those who wish to become his disciples or benefit from his divine power.

Significant in this regard is what Jesus said to the father of the epileptic youth, possessed from infancy by a mute spirit which raged in him in a frightening way. The poor father begged Jesus, "If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us." Jesus replied, "'If you can!' Everything is possible to one who has faith." Then the boy's father cried out, "I do believe, help my unbelief!" (Mk 9:22-23). Jesus performed the cure and freed the unfortunate youth. However, he desired from the boy's father an opening of his soul in faith. That is what has been given to Jesus in the course of the centuries by so many humble and afflicted creatures who, like the father of the epileptic youth, have turned to him to ask his help in temporal and especially in spiritual needs.

However, when people, whatever their social and cultural tradition, resisted through pride or incredulity, Jesus chastised this attitude of theirs by not admitting them to the benefits of his divine power. What we read of the people of Nazareth is significant and striking. Jesus had returned there after beginning his ministry and working his first miracles. They were not only amazed by his teaching and his works, but they were even "scandalized by him." In other words, they spoke of him and treated him with suspicion and hostility, as one who was unwelcome.

"Jesus said to them, 'A prophet is not without honor except in his native place, and among his own kin and in his own house.' So he was not able to perform any mighty deed there, apart from curing a few sick people by laying his hands on them. He was amazed at their lack of faith" (Mk 6:4-6). Miracles are signs of Jesus' divine power. When there is an obstinate blindness in recognizing such power, a miracle loses its raison d'être. Moreover, when the disciples asked Jesus after the curing of the epileptic why they, who had received power from him, could not cast out the demon, he told them, "Because of your little faith. Amen, I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you" (Mt 17:19-20). The language is symbolic and exaggerated, but Jesus used it to inculcate in his followers the necessity and power of faith.

Jesus emphasized this after the miraculous cure of the man born blind. When Jesus met him he asked him, "'Do you believe in the Son of Man?' He answered and said, 'Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?' Jesus said to him, 'You have seen him and the one speaking to you is he.' He said, 'I do believe, Lord,' and he worshipped him" (Jn 9:35-38). It was the act of faith of a humble man, the image of all humble people who seek God (cf. Dt 29:3; Is 6:9 f.; Jer 5:21; Ez 12:2). He obtained the grace not only of physical sight but also of spiritual vision, because he recognized the Son of Man. He was not like the self-sufficient ones who trust only in their own lights and reject the light which comes from on high, and consequently condemn themselves to blindness before Christ and God.

The decisive importance of faith appears even more clearly in the dialogue between Jesus and Martha before the tomb of Lazarus. "Jesus said to her, 'Your brother will rise.' Martha said to him, 'I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.' Jesus told her, 'I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?' She said to him, 'Yes, Lord, I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world'" (Jn 11:23-27). Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead as a sign of Jesus' own divine power not only to raise the dead, because he is the Lord of life, but also to conquer death—he who is the resurrection and the life, as he said to Martha.

Jesus' teaching on faith as a condition of his saving action is summed up and confirmed in his nighttime conversation with Nicodemus, a Jewish leader who was well disposed to him and ready to recognize him as a "teacher come from God" (cf. Jn 3:12).

Jesus spoke to him at length about the new life and, eventually, about the new economy of salvation based on faith in the "Son of Man who must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him, might not perish but might have eternal life" (Jn 3:15-16). Therefore faith in Christ is a constitutive condition of salvation, of eternal life. It is faith in the only-begotten Son—one in being with the Father—in whom the Father's love is manifested. "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him" (Jn 3:17). The judgment is implicit in the choice of accepting or rejecting faith in Christ. "Whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God" (Jn 3:18).

When speaking to Nicodemus, Jesus indicated in the paschal mystery the central point of the faith which saves: "The Son of Man must be lifted up on the cross, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life" (Jn 3:14-15). This can also be called the critical point of faith in Christ. The cross was the definitive test of faith for Christ's apostles and disciples. In the presence of that lifting up one should have been overwhelmed, as partly happened. But the fact that he "rose on the third day" enabled them to emerge victoriously from the final test. Also Thomas, who was the last to overcome the paschal test of faith, burst out into that stupendous profession of faith during his meeting with the risen one, "My Lord and my God!" (Jn 20:28). As in the case of Peter at Caesarea Philippi (cf. Mt 16:16), so likewise Thomas in this paschal meeting burst out with the cry of faith which comes from the Father—Jesus crucified and risen is "Lord and God."

Immediately after recording this profession of faith and Jesus' response which proclaimed blessed those "who have not seen and yet believe" (Jn 20:29), John offers a first conclusion of his Gospel: "Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name" (Jn 20:30-31).

Therefore all that Jesus did and taught, all that the apostles preached and bore witness to and that the evangelists wrote, all that the Church preserves and repeats of their teaching, should be at the service of faith, so that, by believing, one might attain salvation. Salvation—and therefore eternal life—is linked to Jesus Christ's messianic mission from which derives the whole "logic" and "economy" of the Christian faith. John himself proclaimed it from the prologue of his Gospel: "To those who did accept him, (the Word) gave the power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name" (Jn 1:12).