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Greater Works Than These

by Brant Pitre June 05, 2020 0 Comments


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Now the final section of the reading for today goes a little bit even further.  Jesus ends with this statement to the disciples in verse 12 and following:

"Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I go to the Father.

I left that verse for last because although it is short, it is really powerful.  So what Jesus has just said is “the Father is in me and I am in the Father, and when I come into this world, I came to do the Father’s works.”  But it is not just Jesus that does the works of the Father, the disciples are going to do the works of Jesus, they are going to do the works of the Father too.  So he says “whoever believes in me will do the works that I do.”  But then he says something striking, “greater works than these will he do.”  Now you can imagine the apostles sitting there at the Last Supper thinking he was exaggerating.  Like “maybe this was one of his hyperboles,” like “cut off your hand” or “pluck out your eye” or something like that. 

How can Jesus say that anyone else would be able to do greater works than him?  Think about it, if you go back to the Gospel of John what has he done?  He turned water into wine at the wedding at Cana, he healed a centurion’s son, he multiplied bread, he feed 5000 people in the wilderness with bread from five loaves and a couple of fish.  So he had the multiplication of the loaves, he had the changing of water into wine at Cana, he had the walking on water in John 6, the healing of the man born blind in John 9.  All of these miracles and signs that he's performed and now he gets to the end of his life and he tells the apostles “you are doing to do greater works than these.  Whoever believes in me will do greater works.” 

Now on one hand it might sound like he is exaggerating, however on the other hand, if you think about it, what is he going to do when he “goes to the Father?”  Well, he is going to ascend, he is going to die and rise again.  He ascends into heaven and then he sends the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit is going to empower the apostles not just to perform the kind of visible and material miracles that Jesus performed, like changing water into wine or healing the man born blind or feeding the multitudes in the desert; the Holy Spirit is going to empower the apostles to forgive sins like we saw in John 20, the power of confession.  The Holy Spirit is going to empower the apostles to perform the Sacrament of Baptism, where Original Sin and the people’s sins are wiped away and they are made temples of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is going to empower the apostles to change bread and wine into the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ. 

In other words, the greater works that the apostles will perform are the sacraments.  Because although for most of us, we are more amazed by the visible, material miracles that Jesus performed in his lifetime, Jesus is more correct to say that the Sacraments are actually greater miracles.  Because what Jesus does during his public ministry visibly through his visible miracles, is going to point forward to what God will do in the apostles through the Holy Spirit invisibly in the mysteries of the Sacraments.  And you might think, “that is kind of strong Dr. Pitre, how could you say that?”  Well let me just give you an example here.  St. Thomas Aquinas, when he was writing a commentary on this particular passage, this Gospel today from the Gospel of John, St. Thomas Aquinas says that:

What is remarkable is that he adds, “and greater works than these will he do” (John14:12)… Christ is speaking of this result or work when he says that believers “will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do” (John 14:12), for the justification of the wicked is a greater work than the creation of heaven and earth. For the justification of the wicked, considered in itself, continues forever… But the heavens and the earth will pass away…

That is St. Thomas Aquinas’ commentary, and he is actually quoting St. Augustine's commentary on the Gospel of John as well, which is also quoted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1994.  So this is kind of a standard stream of tradition in the Catholic Church, that John 14 is Jesus promising the disciples not only that he would be the road to salvation, but that that road is going to take the particular shape of the Sacraments of the Church.  And if you pull back for a second and think about it, it makes sense.  Take the Sacrament of Confession.  If a priest hears the confession of a person who is in mortal sin and that person is forgiven, there's a real sense in which that one act of hearing a confession is a greater work than the creation of the whole universe.  Because the universe, the heaven and earth, are going to pass away.  They are finite, they are temporary.  But the eternal life given to a person, to the justification of someone as St. Augustine says here, making someone righteous, that lasts forever, that's eternal.  So Baptism, the Eucharist, the Sacrament of Confession; these are actually greater miracles than what Jesus did during his earthly ministry.  And the Apostles and their successors are going to do them through the power of the Holy Spirit.  That is why Jesus says “I have to return to my Father so that you can do these greater works.”  Because when he goes to the Father he will send the Spirit.

Brant Pitre
Brant Pitre


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