It seems sometimes that the four Gospels are a record, of sorts, of the wondrous works of Jesus, and in a way, they are: Jesus healing the sick, casting out demons, forgiving sins, feeding thousands with five loaves of bread, Jesus raising the dead. Wondrous works of power by the Son of the living God. Power never seen before and never seen again, power invested only in Jesus. And yet, Jesus tells us in the Gospel lesson we just heard from John that “he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do…” That doesn’t make any sense, right? A short questionnaire on how many people have walked on water will yield two yesses, Jesus and Peter (Peter would have to put an asterisk next to his ‘yes’). The greatest chef in the world is still constrained to the amount of food put in front of him. And yet, greater works than mine, Jesus tells us, we will do greater works.
The famous preacher Tony Campolo wrote that he had such a hard time with this verse that as a boy, he went to see his pastor about it. His pastor told him that we couldn’t do great works because we didn’t have enough faith. Tony didn’t like that answer at all, because Jesus didn’t say anything about faith when He told us we would do such works. Tony goes on to say “that the problem is this, that we are so impressed with the power of God that we fail to see that the miracles are not about his power but about his love. What Jesus did he did not so much to demonstrate his power but to express his love.”1
What an interesting thought. But now, as it always has been, we see more expressions of power than love, or maybe we just pay more attention to expressions of power. The Seven Wonders of the World sprang to mind when I was thinking about power, and as it turns out, people have spent a lot of time thinking about the way mankind has exercised power over the natural world. There are Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, a list that includes things like pyramids and other ridiculously lavish buildings. The Seven Wonders of the Medieval World reads no different, but includes the Great Wall of China, which is either the best fence or the longest, skinniest castle ever made, depending on how you look at it. There are, at quick count, seventeen more lists of Seven Wonders, and I am sure there are many more, and none of them, not one, includes a father patting his son on the back after a strikeout; I found no mentions of kidneys being transplanted into complete strangers, no neighbors bringing food to the widow next door, no mention of a soldier taking a bullet for the guy next to him. Instead we get lists of buildings; our TV’s show the power to cast people off islands and stages, our magazines have lists of the most powerful people in Hollywood or D.C. or wherever. It’s enough to make you wonder about humanity, until you discover yourself scarfing it all up, and then it’s enough to make you wonder about your own humanity.
But what would the world look like if every expression of power was turned to an expression of love? What if every time we used what power we have as an expression of love? Wouldn’t that be a miracle? “You see, Jesus did perform miracles and I believe he still does. But there’s something even greater than miracles that God has called us to do. He has called us to be instruments of his love to people who need to experience love. And when we do those things, these acts of love are greater than the work that [Jesus] did when he walked on water.
“But there’s even a deeper meaning to that verse than that. Here it is: When Jesus was here in the flesh he was only able to look into the eyes of one person at a time; only able to express love personally to one person at a time. But he has ascended to be with the Father and [has sent His Holy Spirit to come] into our lives and fill us and drive us to love.”2 Now Jesus looks into the eyes of countless people all the time, people in need of Christ’s love, people like you and me.
All week, as I have been contemplating power, all I could hear in my head was He-Man in the old cartoon; “I have the power!” he would yell, and then he would zap Cringer the cowardly cat so he could become the brave Battle-Cat. Somewhere in North Korea right now, Kim Jong Il is trying to do the same thing. But as our Lord Jesus shows us, power, real power, is shown in love; and love always shows itself in providing life, life for others. Whether it be Jesus raising a man from the dead or parents bringing their child to the font, life is given, given in the Name of Jesus, and that’s greatest work of all.
1 Tony Campolo, Doing Greater Things, csec.org