Saturday, May 21, 2011

Even Greater Works

Fifth Sunday of Easter (Year A)
Acts 6:1-7
1 Peter 2:4-9
John 14:1-12

Somebody I read recently in the paper, writing social commentary, stated as if it were something self-evident that believing folk today are more apt to expect miracles to happen in answer to their prayers. It could be, but it is begging the question to say that is what Jesus meant in today’s Gospel by the words:
            I tell you most solemnly, whoever believes in me will perform the same works as I do myself, he will perform even greater works, because I am going to the Father.”
If you claim this passage as the proof text which can make you a wonder-worker if your faith is strong enough, I would say that is what is commonly called “prosperity gospel” (faith healing, power of positive thinking, self-determination through prayer of petition); it isn’t Catholic faith, the faith which comes to us from the Apostles.

If the works Jesus is referring to are not first and foremost His miracles, then what works is He talking about? What are those same works of His which we believing in Him can expect to do? If He is not thinking of the works of turning water to wine, multiplying loaves and fishes, strengthening withered limbs, opening the eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf, raising the dead, then what?

We appeal to the authority of the Church and the combination of readings set together for our reflection and edification this Sunday. Note how we are reminded in the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles that these believing men, the apostles, ordained the first seven deacons to assure that the poor Greek speaking widows were as well cared for as the Hebrew speaking ones were in the daily distribution of food. The matter was obviously important enough to merit mention in this book dedicated to recounting the beginnings of the spread of our faith. There is a whole Christian tradition which would say that everyone knows (and the deacons prove it) that the works Jesus is talking about are His and the Church’s works of charity. Christianity is fundamentally a moral message and belief inspires to virtuous living they say. Guess again!

A little earlier in this same Gospel of John (in Chapter 6) we read:
 “’What must we do if we are to do the works that God wants?’ Jesus gave them this answer, ‘This is working for God: you must believe in the one he has sent.’”
Clenching our fists, squinting our eyes and shouting “Sweet Jesus, heal!” like good old Oral Roberts is probably easier than what is asked of us and so is the good old protestant tradition of using Christianity to make good citizens. But in point of fact, the true teaching is another; it is not an easy one. It is more than clear that here we are caught up in the frustration of the apostles in today’s Gospel, reflected by both Thomas and Philip, as they miss the point of what Jesus means by even greater works:
            “Thomas said, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’ Jesus said: ‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.’”
These words of Jesus are a worth Sunday’s meditation; they need to be pondered. St. Peter says:
            “That means that for you who are believers, it is precious; but for unbelievers, the stone rejected by the builders has proved to be the keystone, a stone to stumble over, a rock to bring men down. They stumble over it because they do not believe in the word; it was the fate in store for them.”
During the Easter season in the official texts of the Church’s liturgy we sing over and over of Jesus, the Risen One, the stone rejected by the builders which has become the cornerstone or keystone. Our victory is in His victory over sin and death. The work He does is His Father’s and our work is believing, believing in Jesus; if we don’t embrace Him in faith He becomes the stumbling block.

While much could be said, I will say only one thing. Good folk in the world everywhere (Canada, Cancun, Calcutta, Canberra, everywhere), good people everywhere are all good more or less in the same way: they are good family people, they are honest, they work hard to earn a living and they respect the rights of others. None of those works, not even folding our hands or bowing our heads in prayer, distinguish us from each other. The work is believing, believing in Jesus.

I wish you a profitable Sunday to grapple with that thought.
I tell you most solemnly, whoever believes in me will perform the same works as I do myself, he will perform even greater works, because I am going to the Father.”

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