There is a line in John’s gospel, showing up in the lectionary readings for today, that I would wager most of us would claim as impossible to believe. Jesus is in the early stages of his “farewell discourse” and trying to impress upon those closest to him that they really will be able to carry on without him because he will remain close to them in Spirit. In JN 14:12 we hear the following promise: Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do and will do greater ones than these…
Let’s think about this for a moment…How could we even think of doing greater things than Jesus?! Well…take the fact that there are millions more people around now than in the time of Jesus. Most of them are within our reach because of air travel and the internet. These inventions have expanded communication far beyond what could have been possible in the first century of Christianity. And Jesus was a healer. Think of the advances of modern medicine that allow “the blind to see, the lame to walk…” and even new hearts – physical ones – can prolong a person’s life. Keep thinking and you may come up with something you are, or have been, a part of that could never have happened in the far distant past.
Jesus didn’t say, “You will be greater than I am.” What he said was: “You will do greater things than I do.” That allows us to dream big while still keeping our humility intact, always knowing that our abilities and talents ultimately come from God and not from us, but through us – with our consent and participation. The thing that redeems the Nightly News on NBC for me is the last segment that began on Monday nights but now seems to happen more frequently – maybe because we need it more – called Inspiring America. It tells the stories of ordinary people who are doing what began as simple things that have grown to extraordinary works – many of them coming from young people. Take for example the 7 year-old boy who asked his mother why someone was standing on the corner with a sign that said, “Will work for food.” When he heard that there are many poor, often hungry people in our country he started an organization of people his age that now feeds hundreds – maybe thousands of people. When asked if parents help in his organization, he says, “Of course. They help with our taxes and stuff. And they help with deliveries. We can’t drive: I’m only 14!”
Ordinary people doing extraordinary things cannot help but become extraordinary disciples. The one common element in almost all of these stories is relationship. First, of course, there is a recognition of a need that most often includes people in need. Next there is the sense that “I can’t do it alone” so (especially with children) there is the request for others to join in the effort. And then, miracles can happen. It’s like when Jesus wanted to feed the 5,000 people but said instead to his disciples, “You give them something to eat yourselves.” (LK 9:13) And so they did!