An incredible promise

 Jn 14:1-12

“Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father” (Jn 14:14). 

At first, this appears to be an impossible promise. While on earth Jesus preached the Good News, performed great miracles, and more than anything, defeated sin and death with His Crucifixion and Resurrection. How could our work be greater than that?

Of course, it cannot be. We cannot forgive our own sins. We cannot defeat death. Yet united to Jesus, these things are possible. Through our confession to a priest, our sins are forgiven. Through our faith in Jesus Christ, we have eternal life.

Yet in other ways, we can see how the works of the church have exceeded what Jesus accomplished on earth. On the day of Pentecost, Peter preached to the crowds and three thousand persons were baptized (Acts 4:41), and as “every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved” (Acts 4:47), it appeared that the rapid growth of Christianity was exceeding the growth Christ obtained while He preached throughout Galilee and Judea. Today, the Catholic Church numbers over 1.2 billion people, and the total number of Christians numbers over 2 billion. 

In the providence of God, Jesus desires that our works bear great fruit, from our spreading of the Gospel to our participation in the sacraments, and even to the miracles that occur through our faithful intercession. 

We are left to marvel at this aspect of God's divine plan. As Jesus humbled Himself and became human at the Annunciation, He continues to humble Himself by allowing His works to be done by us, the sinful vessels that comprise His Mystical Body, the church. Jesus tells us, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5). Even this analogy is humbling, for we know that the vine brings nourishment to the branches, but it is the branches that produce the grapes. Jesus wants us to be the vine and He gives us all we need to bear bountiful fruit. Through His grace, we can do great things.

Yet how does this work come about? Were not the apostles who walked with Jesus at an advantage over us who have not met Him as they did? In many ways, we have an advantage over the crowds that followed Jesus. For one, we have a greater understanding of His teaching through the gift of faith and years of prayerful study of Revelation. We know and love the teaching of Jesus in a greater way through His Spirit dwelling in His Church, which bears fruit in the teaching of our bishops, the successors of the apostles. Because of this, we understand to a greater extent than the apostles were able. For example, we take it for granted that Jesus rose from the dead on Easter morning, while the apostles were scared after the Crucifixion and confused when the body of Jesus was missing. 

We also have the gift of the sacraments, where throughout the world the members of the church can encounter Jesus. This is great news. We meet Our Lord in baptism, confirmation and, for those called to the priesthood, holy orders. In our physical suffering and weakness, we meet Him in the anointing of the sick. For those called to marriage, you meet Jesus in your spouse through the sacrament of marriage. For all of the baptized, we meet Our Savior whenever we want in the Eucharist and in the confessional. Through Him we can and will be healed, strengthened and transformed through our faith and His sacramental grace.

Finally, we have the gift of the Holy Spirit, sent to us after Christ’s Ascension to dwell within us, to guide us, to give us His gifts and fruits, and even to pray for us. The Holy Spirit remains with us and keeps us attached to the vine that is Jesus Christ. 

In the Gospel today, Jesus promises that while He will no longer be with us as He was with His apostles, we can still encounter Him and, strengthened by Him, we can do amazing things. Not only that, we are called to do amazing things:

“Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father.”

May our faith in Jesus Christ and His promise to remain with us strengthen us to do great things as we work to build up His kingdom.

Fr. Wagner is Arlington Bishop Michael F. Burbidge’s secretary.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017