What Exactly Does Jesus Mean in John 14:12?

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I was sitting in the pew of St. Lambert’s Catholic Church listening to our priest deliver the Gospel reading for the 4th Sunday of Easter—this is rare since I am usually out in the hallway with my finicky 1 year old!—when I noticed a strange verse in the reading. St. John quotes Jesus as saying, “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 (John 14:12 New American Bible). Throughout the rest of that Mass and every day since I have pondered Jesus’ meaning. Today I want to share some of my thoughts on how I interpreted this peculiar passage!

peculiar

  1. Greater in Quantity Not Quality: According to the dictionary, the word greater is defined as large in number, notable, highly significant, and distinguished to name a few definitions. I want to highlight the first definition—large in number. It makes senses for the works of Christians done in Jesus’ name to be larger than Christ’s miraculous deeds done on Earth simply because 33 years is significantly shorter than the over 2,000 years in Church history. It is also important to read verse 12 in context with the rest of the passage. Immediately following Jesus’ odd statement in John 14:12, he talks about the sending of the Holy Spirit after he ascends to the Father. Jesus declared, ““If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate* to be with you always, 17 the Spirit of truth,* which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you (John 14:15-17 NAB). It is through cooperation with the Third Person of the Holy Trinity that Apostles and saints are graced through the ages to produce miraculous works.

 

  1. Father, Son, Holy Spirit= Distinct but Equally God: God is ultimately above humanity’s total comprehension. St. Thomas says that man must have a certain type of agnosticism about the full knowledge of God. According to John Courtney Murray in The Problem of God, “In the end, our presence to him, which is real, is a presence to the unknown; ‘to him we are united as to one unknown,’ says Aquinas (p. 71).  Because of this ineffable [cool word I learned that means incapable of being expressed or described in words!] complete understanding of God, it makes sense that some peculiar and seemingly paradoxical passages in the Scriptures exist. The evangelist may have struggled with our to properly describe the relationship of the Trinity and may even have shared similar questions as myself. However, despite this struggle, as a Catholic I believe John to be a trustworthy firsthand witness to the teaching of Jesus. John makes it crystal clear in his prologue to his Gospel that though the Persons of the Trinity as Distinct they are equally God. Knowing this religious truth, when I go back to read John 14:12 I know that Jesus cannot possibly mean the works done by the Holy Spirit as greater than His works since the Son and the Holy Spirit are equally God!

 trinity icon.jpg

Now the feast of the Holy Trinity [my favorite liturgical feast :)] is arriving soon and I hope to be sharing more of my thoughts and reflections on the mystery of the Holy Trinity leading up to that Sunday. Until then, I will leave you to ponder Jesus’ mysterious words again, “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 we all be grateful for the gifts of knowledge and understanding given to us by the Holy Spirit and pray for a deepening of these gifts especially as we draw nearer to the Feast of the Holy Trinity.

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