Commentary on John 14:7-14
Once again we have to be thankful for a disciple’s question. Jesus has just said that those who really know him also know his Father. In fact, he says, they have already seen him. But, after all this talk about the Father, Philip, the naive one, is puzzled. “Show us this Father you are always talking about. That is all we ask.” Perhaps, like some of the other Jews, he was expecting some dramatic sign, some striking manifestation of the Father.
“Philip,” Jesus replies patiently, “whoever has seen me has seen the Father… Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?… Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else, believe because of the works I do.” Philip still lacked that faith that could see the Father clearly working in and through Jesus.
Of course, what Jesus says has to be understood properly. In a sense, when we see Jesus we do see the Father; but, in another sense, we do not see the Father, at least not fully. When Jesus speaks, the Father speaks; when Jesus forgives, the Father forgives; when Jesus heals, the Father heals; when Jesus gives life, it is the Father who gives life.
Jesus is the Word of God; he is the utterance of God; he is God expressing himself and communicating himself to us. In his person, Jesus is totally united with the Father. But in Jesus’ humanity, which is where we meet him, the Father only comes through in the dimmest fashion. As Paul wrote to the Christians of Corinth: “At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully as I am known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).
The love that Jesus shows is the love of the Father but, limited by his human nature, it is only the faintest image of the full reality of that love. It is important for us to understand this. That is why Jesus calls himself the Way; he is the Way not the End. The Father is the end and goal of all living.
And so Jesus goes on to make a statement that at first seems strange. “The one who has faith in me will do the works I do, and greater far than these. Why? Because I go to the Father.” How can we possible do greater, far greater things than Jesus? Yet, in a way, it is very true.
Jesus, in his time here on earth, was very limited in what he could accomplish. He lived in one very small place, probably spoke only one language, although he might have picked up a smattering of Greek; he reached relatively few people and was only intimate with a small number.
There are many Christians today who with the means of travel and communications available to them can bring the message of Jesus to far greater numbers and often more effectively. The pope in a major address or at a Christmas Mass can reach a potential audience of billions through television, radio and the newspaper. Jesus could do none of these things.
Jesus, now in his risen Body, the Church, can indeed “do far greater things” and this was made possible by his going back to the Father and passing on his work into our hands. Given the instruments at our disposal, we have a great responsibility to do that “greater work”.
But to do that work we need, of course, to rely on the help and guidance of Jesus through his Spirit. As he says in conclusion today, “Anything you ask me in my name I will do.” He has left us but is still with us.
And to pray in his name is not just to use his name like a talisman or charm. In invoking Jesus’ name we also fully identify ourselves with his Way and his will. It is not an invitation to make any kind of arbitrary request to suit our own personal whims. Primarily, it is to ask his help in spreading his Gospel. That is a prayer which he will surely answer.