This coming Sunday is the 5th Sunday of Easter in Lectionary Cycle A. In posts over the last two days we considered possible understandings of the manner in which Jesus would return to prepare his disciples followed by the explanation the disciples sought. Jesus’ statement in v.7 (If you know me, then you will also know my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”) is cast in the light of a deep human desire: to see and know God. Jesus tells the disciples – in knowing me, in seeing me, in my words, and in my deeds, you have seen and come to know the Father.
But Phillip is essentially asking for a theophany (v.8) – the visible manifestation of God – which raises the question of Phillip’s understanding of who Jesus really is. What comes next in Jesus’ reply is somewhat obscured by the translation of singular/plural second person pronouns, i.e., “you.” While not clear in English it is quite clear in Greek. Brian Stoffregen offers this clarifying paraphrase (vv.10-11):
“For such a long time I have been with y’all
and you have not known me, Philip?
The one having seen me has seen the father.
How are you saying, ‘Show us the father?’
Do you not believe that I am in the father and the father is in me?
The words which I am saying to y’all I am not speaking from myself,
but the father dwelling in me is doing his works.
[Y’all] Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father in me;
but if not, [y’all] believe through the works themselves.”
While this might indicate a lack of understanding and belief on the part of the disciples about the person and being of Jesus, it clearly shows their lack of understanding about the relationship between Jesus and God as Father. Jesus wanted the disciples to understand he was not just a prophet, not just a teacher, not just their disciple-master, not only the Messiah; he was the Word made flesh, God incarnate. To be in his presence was to be in the presence of the Father. And if you can’t do that on a personal level – then believe the works.
Greater Works than These. To know what this means we need first to understand what is meant by ‘the works’ of Jesus. This expression is used repeatedly in connection with Jesus’ ministry, and denotes (1) evangelizing the Samaritan woman (4:34); (2) healing the lame man at the Pool of Bethesda (5:20; 7:21); (3) healing the man born blind (9:3, 4); (4) Jesus’ miracles generally (7:3; 10:25, 32, 33, 37, 38; 14:11, 12; 15:24); (5) Jesus’ teaching (10); and (6) Jesus’ entire ministry generally (5:36; 17:4).
But what does it mean to do greater works that Jesus did? The word meizona does not mean greater in quantity, but is reserved as a qualitative assessment. No credible scholars hold that the disciples will later, in mission, perform works of a greater quality…however understood. Nor do they hold that the disciples/their works would more clearly reveal the Father. How are our works greater than Jesus’? Maybe it is as simple as the fact that our works come after the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension – when Jesus has gone to the Father. The disciples’ work/ our works come during the new, eschatological age ushered in by Jesus’ “hour” of glory when those later works reveal the complete story of the Word made Flesh and hence the fullness of God’s love. By doing what Jesus does, the disciples of every age continue the glorification of God through Jesus that was the purpose of his own works (v.13; cf 5:44; 11:4; 17:4)
Image credit: Duccio di Buoninsegna (1255–1319), “Jesus taking leave of his Apostles,” ca. 1310 | Panel 4 of the Maestro, Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Siena | Public Domain