Amen I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these. (John 14:12)
I was reading recently about how a group of Christian university students some 40 years ago decided to find every verse of scripture that spoke of the “works” that God called us to do. It turned out to their great surprise that they all related directly to issues of justice: care for the poor, the abandoned and the neglected. To their further astonishment they found over 2,000 texts about this call, which they then cut out of an old Bible. Their discovery came to be called the “Bible full of holes.” This “holy” Bible is still in existence.
The “works that I do” that Jesus speaks of in today’s Gospel are precisely the very ones he did: healing the sick, washing the feet of others, feeding the multitudes, throwing arms of forgiveness around prodigal sons and daughters, challenging the powers that be.
Robert F. Kennedy wrote about these kinds of “works,” and the ones that represent the “greater ones than these” that you and I can actually do, in this way: “It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a person stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope. Crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples will build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
You and I all by ourselves are probably not going to heal sick people in the same way Jesus did, but we can certainly attend to them. You and I all by ourselves are probably not going to raise anyone from the dead as Jesus did, but we can grieve with those who have lost a loved one. You and I all by ourselves are probably not going to stop the horrific spread of human trafficking that is a blight on humanity; we’re probably not going to end the terrible rise in heroin addiction, or put an end to the income inequity so many people are struggling with, or end the curse of pornography that is corrupting so many lives, or end abortion.
But what we can do is “diverse acts of courage” that will enable us to stand up, to speak out, to demand an accounting. What we can do is become a “tiny ripple of hope” that, joined with others, can become a “current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
How can we do this? We can begin by listening to how today’s second reading reminds us of who we are. We’re not just anybody, it tells us. We’re “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own … who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
“A people of his own” is the way scripture describes us. We’re different from everyone else. We belong to God. We are his presence in this world. We are his face, his voice, his hands, his feet, his heart.
And how will people know this? By doing the “works” that mimic the very ones Jesus does.
Perhaps if each one of us asked ourselves this one question, it would help us know what the “works” are that we can do:
What in the world today most breaks your heart, most offends your sense of justice, most inspires passion within you?