Originally Posted on May 2, 2015 at Ite Missa Est
Memorial of St. Athanasius, Bishop and Doctor of the Church
Jesus drops a shocking line in today’s readings. At least, I think it should be shocking to both its initial hearers and us. He says, “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these.”
Here is my thinking for why this should be shocking. Jesus is saying this, and while he shares in a common human nature with us, he also happens to be the Son of God. So right off the bat I am left wondering what kind of shenanigans Jesus is up to telling people that they will do greater things than he. I feel like the human potential for great things and the divine potential for great things aren’t even competing in the same universe. I’m not trying to downplay human achievements, we have done some great (and terrible) things, but are we really going to try and compare human artistic creation and God’s creation of space and time? I think not! But this digression brings me to my point, and I think Jesus’.
By nature, all of us are human with human potential. Through Christ though, particularly through our encounter with him in the Sacraments, grace builds upon our nature. The grace we receive when we encounter Christ in Baptism, the Eucharist, the Confessional, and any of the others is nothing short of a participation in the Divine Nature. It is an elevating of who we are and what we are. This is what I think he means, we are not going to do things that are greater because they are more spectacular. We are going to do greater things because He is calling us to “do the works [he] does.” These works are within his nature as God, but are so far above our nature. Through Christ, through his grace, he makes us capable of things that are above our nature. We are made supernatural.
So practically, what does this mean for us? Christ answers this with the first part of the quote, “whoever believes in me.” Biblically, belief has always been so much more than mere intellectual assent, we cheapen it if we reduce it to “I believe this is true and this is false.” It implies trust and reliance, like how I believe in my wife. This is what I think Christ means, and this is why he addresses this to his disciples. It is in discipleship and as disciples that we come to a lived experience of reliance and dependence on Christ.
– Spencer Hargadon