Homily for 5th Sunday of Easter Year A 2017
Acts 6:1-7; 1 Peter 2:4-9; John 14:1-12
"Whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these." Did you catch that? Jesus is telling his followers that they will do works that are as great as he has done and even greater ones than his.
Perhaps it is like my experience as a teacher, something that will resonate with any teachers here. I have now taught eight classes of priests at Notre Dame Seminary. And when I see them celebrating Mass well or preaching fervently, doing everything I taught them better than me, I am proud that they are doing greater things than I.
But there is a big difference. In case of Jesus, he is God. How can mere mortals do greater things than God? The answer Jesus gives is this: "because I am going to the Father;" Let us go back to the very beginning of the gospel to understand how this is possible, how we can do greater works that Jesus.
Scripture and Theology
Our gospel today comes from the speech Jesus gave at the Last Supper, not the part that where he instituted the Eucharist, nor is it the part where he washes the feet of his disciples; It is the part where he gives his last will and testament, where just before he dies, he gives his disciples some parting wisdom.
First, he comforts them, assuring them that there are many dwelling places or rooms in his father's house and that he is going there to prepare a place for them. And then he adds: "And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be. Where I am going you know the way."
Think of a immigrant father who is moving his family to another country for a better life. But he has scrapped together only enough money for himself to travel. So tells his family that he is going there to work hard, earn more money, prepare a home and then he come back to bring the rest of the family. Although most children would be sad on hearing this explanation, they would understand why dad has to leave. As for the disciples, at least two of them, Thomas and Philip, failed to understand why Jesus had to leave, and so challenged Jesus.
Thomas asked: "Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?" This is when Jesus gave his famous answer: "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." In other words, Thomas does not need to know where Jesus is going. All he needs to know is Jesus, the way that leads to the Father. Why ask for the address or for the map or for the GPS, when the person driving the car knows how to get there! Just jump into the car and you will get there. Similarly the disciple just needs to know Jesus, who is the way, the truth and the life, and he will get you there.
Philip, the other smart aleck in the group, had a follow-up question. "Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us." It seems that Philip didn't like middlemen; he didn't want to waste time with an intermediary like Jesus. He wanted the real thing, the vision of the Father. We can certainly sympathise with Philip: when we go to an office, we don't like dealing with the secretary – we want to see the boss immediately; when we go to the clinic or ER, we don't want to deal with the nurse – we want to see the doctor immediately.
But Jesus explained to Philip, that he, Jesus, was no ordinary intermediary. He said: "Whoever has seen me has seen the Father." Jesus thus claimed to be equal to the Father. After all, as he went on: "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." In other words, Philip must understand that seeing Jesus is like seeing the Father himself. As St. Paul told the Colossians, Jesus "is the image of the invisible God" (Col. 1:15). Jesus is like the son of the owner, who might be manning the receptionist desk, but is also a partner in the firm, an owner of the firm. After all, he is the Son of God; he is God.
It is after making these great claims about being the way to the Father and about being one with the Father, essentially saying that he is God, that Jesus then says: "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." How is this possible?
Unlike us human beings, Jesus does not have a large ego. He is concerned, not with himself, or his works, but with the work of the Father, which he came to do. He came to bring men and women back to Father and that is why he is the way, the truth and the life. What the Father wants, Jesus wants too.
Jesus has done his bit, the bit he was sent to do. He has taught many things and performed many miracles. Most importantly, he suffered, died and rose from the dead. But the work is not yet done. The world has not yet been returned to the Father. That is why Jesus hands on that task to his disciples, so that they can bring it to completion, and thus do the greater works than he.
And for this work to be successful, like a puppet master, Jesus will guide it from heaven, where in his glorious state, he is no longer limited by time and space.
What Jesus promised has actually come to pass. Jesus taught the Good News to hundreds of people, perhaps thousands. But Christian missionaries, starting with the first disciples have taken his Word to the ends of the world, to billions of people. In his name, with the help of the Spirit, we the disciples have done greater things!
Besides the Word, we have also extended his love. Jesus fed five thousand people; he healed hundreds of people; he raised three from the dead. But throughout the history of the Church, many billions of people have been served by the Church: the sick healed, the orphans and widows fed, the naked clothed, the homeless housed, the ignorant taught, all in the name of Jesus and under his inspiration! And so, in his name we continue to do greater works.
One final area of greater works is the sacraments, where we have extended the grace of Jesus. Yes, Jesus gave God's grace, divine life to hundreds, maybe thousands of the people who met him in person. But many times more people have been baptized and confirmed, married or ordained, reconciled and anointed and most of all, received the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist.
It is like Louis Armstrong sings in What a wonderful Life saying: "I hear babies crying, I watch them grow. They'll learn much more than I'll never know." Or even better, it is like mother – I saved this image for last because it is Mother's Day. My mother, like many mothers sacrificed much, so that we her children could have more, could do better in life, could do greater things.
That is what Jesus did, giving up his life on the cross, so that so that the Church could extend his Word, his love, his saving grace to the ends of the world.
And so, we must realize what great dignity and honour Jesus has given us, which is the opportunity to carry on his mission of sharing the Good News, works of charity, worship of the Father, surpassing what he did. And he has empowered us to do this in his name and with his Spirit, since he is the way, the truth and the life; since he and the Father are one.
When you and I meet the Lord, as we surely will, how will our report card, our balance sheet compare with his? It is my prayer that he will say to you and me: you have done the great works that I did; you have done even greater works!