“I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I”

Many years ago, when I was serving in a parish in Nigeria as a Seminarian on pastoral experience, I encountered some Jehovah’s Witness members who approached me to try to “teach” me about God, Jesus Christ, faith and worship. We exchanged pleasantries and introduced ourselves. I simply told them my name and added “I am a Catholic.” They smiled at that and said to me: “You Catholics believe in the Trinity.” And I said “Yes, absolutely! Don’t you believe in the Trinity as well?” They answered “No!” And almost in a practised chorus quoted John 14: 28 to defend their position. This portion of the Bible says: “I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I am.” Then they asked me: “How do you understand this?” Our encounter did not go down well because they were bent on their stand, resolute and firm without listening to my arguments which were biblically based as well. They simply did not, and still as we gather here today, do not believe in the Trinity. There is no doubt that this verse, if read and taken literally could infer Jesus’ admission of some inequality with the Father. But the interpretation of the Scripture should always be exercised within its context and then compared with other relevant references for better understanding and clarification so that it can teach, reproof, correct and train us in righteousness (2 Timothy 3: 16).  

“I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I am”: So have you ever pondered on this statement of Jesus? What did Jesus really mean? Is Jesus not truly God, one and equal? What about our Creed? We profess that Jesus is “The Only-begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages; God from God, Light from Light; True God from True God.” This is still our Creed. And will always be. Let us first understand the context of this statement: it was at the Last Supper. On this occasion, Jesus was not focusing on Divinity, remember He was fully God and fully man – in all things but sin. His emphasis at the Last Supper was on His humanity, specifically on His Body that was to be bruised, crucified, dead and buried; but which will rise again in glory and later return to the Father in heaven from where He came. In His human nature therefore, Jesus was less than the Father, Who is Omnipotent, Omnipresent, Omniscient and Immortal. Thus referring to His humanity, to say “The Father is greater than I am” is very apt. John could not have contradicted himself so easily as the entire Gospel of John is a structured detail of Jesus’ teaching about His Divinity. The very opening verse of John’s Gospel reads: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God” (John 1: 1-2). John is very explicit here that “The Word was God.” In verse 14 of the same Chapter of the Gospel we read: “And the Word became flesh and dwelled among us …” Jesus is the spoken Word referred to here, Who became flesh. So from the out-set it is clear that Jesus is God-made-flesh. He is the Divine Incarnate Word. Jesus attests to his Oneness with the Father in many other ways and places, for instance: in John 10: 30, Jesus said: “I and the Father are one.” He said to Philip in John 14: 9: “To have seen Me is to have seen the Father.” And in the same Chapter 14 verse 11, Jesus said: “Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me.” It is as St. Paul highlights: “Jesus Christ, though He was God, did not claim equality with God a thing to be grasped” (Philippians 2: 6). Dear friends, let us set our hearts on the truth that edifies and leads us to Christ, and “Have nothing to do with stupid, senseless controversies …” (2 Timothy 2: 23) with people who are fixated and highly opinionated about their ideas.

“If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and we shall come to him and make our home with him”: We see the themes of love and obedience emerging this week again in today’s liturgy. In Johannine theology, love is very central to our understanding of God and in our relationship with Him. For John, “God is love” (1 John 4: 8). This is what characterises the divine identity and His relationship with us. Love is the foundation and the summit of our relationship: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only-Begotten Son, so that whoever believes in Him may not perish but might have eternal life” (John 3: 16). Love is the reason God sent His Son in human form into the world to restore the lost and severed bond. The Son lived out His life in perfect love of the Father through obedience. His life was nourished only by doing the Father’s Will: “My food is to do the Will of Him Who sent Me, and to accomplish His work” (John 4: 34). Obedience is the truest expression of love. This is what Jesus is inviting us to do: to show our love for Him by obeying and living out His Word. “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” Our love can only be concrete through obedience; and this is what unites us with Him: “You are My friends, if you do what I command you to do” (John 15: 14).

“… The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, Whom the Father will send in My Name, will teach you everything and remind you of all I have said to you”: This was almost the defining moment in the life of Jesus that would open the flood gate of hopelessness, persecution and missionary exploits in the lives of His apostles and disciples, and so it was necessary that they be assured of a divine Comforter and Companion, the Holy Spirit, Whom Jesus calls “The Advocate.” An advocate, from its Greek translation, “parakletos” is someone who stands beside you when you are in a very difficult situation, like when accused and you need to defend yourself but you are helpless. He is the one person, who is competent, intelligent and wise, of a high standing and respected by the authorities; one whose arguments cannot be controverted (Luke 21: 15). The apostles really need the Holy Spirit, Who would also “teach” and “remind” them of all that Jesus had taught. And with the Holy Spirit comes “peace” that is far more profoundly enduring than the peace the world gives, which is ephemeral. This is the peace that Jesus bequeaths to us all. We have to be prepared for this by loving God and His Son through obedience.