“Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father” John 14:12
Before Jesus let go of earth, he has more to say to his disciples. This is the beginning of his last lecture series to his disciples where he says some startling things. Verse 12 is one of the most startling. If anyone other than Jesus had said this we would call it blasphemy or ignorant braggadocio. Greater works than Jesus? Not possible!
Jesus is talking about the life of his disciples here on earth which makes it seem even more impossible. Then a bit later Jesus says, “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.” Jesus will not be with them physically to do such things as wash their feet as he did that night before he died, but they will be washing each other’s feet, and serving others as he had been doing. His Spirit will live in them. They will remember that night when he took the basin and towel, bent down and surprised them all by saying that he was their servant as well as their Lord and their teacher. They will be impelled by His Spirit to have a servant heart.
Jesus promised to be present with the disciples in a different way: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.” But forever wasn’t a reference to after they had died. It was to be from the moment the Advocate came to them and forever. He would continue to be a powerful force in their lives as the Advocate, the Holy Spirit came on Pentecost. Pentecost is often called “The Birthday of the Church.”
This promise of the Holy Spirit was indeed personal to those first disciples, but it is an ageless and communal promise that is to be shared by all who believe and follow Jesus. This church that we are a part of will be the body of Christ in all the world, carrying in it the Spirit of Christ. Still, those of us who are part of the church know we are not what Jesus called us to be. We spend too much and share too little; we judge too many and love too few; we wait too long and act too late. Our human nature wins out many times when the Spirit of Christ desires to lead us to do something more loving.
God calls us through the Holy Spirit to respond to him and to others in love as a choice that we make freely. God doesn’t want puppets he can manipulate. He wants people who choose to accept his love, and who in turn choose to share that love with others.
I’m not sure what “greater works” Jesus had in mind but I can think of no “greater work” than people living out the character of Jesus, doing the things he did, relating to people in love as he did while he was on earth. And it seems to me that was the purpose for God pouring out his Spirit on “all flesh” at Pentecost. We do have to listen and pay attention to the Holy Spirit in order to do the work that Jesus calls us to do. That is what the disciples were doing that day in Jerusalem when the storm of the Holy Spirit came in such a powerful way to allow them to speak in languages that all the visitors from all over the populated world could understand the message of who Jesus is. They were waiting and praying just as Jesus had instructed them to do and that is when the Spirit of Christ came to empower them to do such great things that day. That same Holy Spirit is in you and me, all we have to do is pray, wait, and listen to this Spirit to teach our hearts to love and live as Jesus did.
Rev. Sue Beall -National Lutheran Secretariat Spiritual Director