“Whoever believes in me will do the works that I do.”
Does Jesus really mean these words? How can we, weak and sinful as we are, ever dare to do what Christ has done and even imagine that we can do greater works than He has done? Can we hope to transform the lives of others, give hope to many, be obedient to the Father’s will even to the point of death on the Cross, forgive those who hurt us, serve all people selflessly, love God and others without counting the cost, and speak the truth with courage no matter the consequences?
Sunday’s liturgical Readings show us two things that make it possible for us to do what Christ has done.
Firstly, to do what Christ has done, we must be filled with and transformed by the Spirit of the Father so completely that it becomes God who speaks and acts within us. By being so transformed by the Spirit’s presence, we too can repeat Christ’s words in the Gospel, “I am in the Father and the Father is in me. The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own. The Father who dwells in me is doing His work.” We can then say like St. Paul, “It is not I who live but Christ who lives in me.” By virtue of sanctifying grace in our souls, God acting and speaking within us is the first condition for us to do what Christ has done. We must live in this state of grace if we are going to do what Christ has done.
The second condition is that we must be willing and ready to take risks and to place ourselves in situations of vulnerability before others to fulfill the will of God and to meet the needs of others. In Jesus Christ, God took the greatest risk in meeting our need for a savior by assuming our human nature and becoming one like us in the womb of the Virgin Mary. Because He took this risk in the Incarnation of the Word, Mary could carry God lovingly in her womb, King Herod could chase God in an attempt to kill Him, Mary Magdalene could wash and anoint His feet, Peter could fall at His feet in fear, Judas could sell God, God experienced human poverty, the Jews could mock God, spit and strike His face, the Romans could nail God to a cross and lay Him in a tomb. St. Peter sums us this divine election and vulnerability of Jesus in the First Reading when He said that that Jesus was “rejected by human beings but chosen and precious in the sight of God.”
The first condition to do what Christ has done, this indwelling presence and action of God, is something that God does and we only need to beg for it and dispose ourselves to receive it. The second condition, our part to be vulnerable before others, is the more challenging part.
I was asked some months ago by a parishioner after Holy Mass if I was willing to be a chaplain for a group of Filipinos on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Though I eventually agreed to be open to his invitation, I hesitated before giving him a reply because I was thinking, “Is it even safe to travel to the Holy Land now?” It is surprising how we instinctively think of our own safety and well-being first of all and still want to do God’s will and serve His people.
I was reminded of this conversion when I heard that Pope Francis will be in the Middle East in a few days time, visiting Jordan, the Palestinian Territories and Israel. It is interesting to know that, unlike his predecessors and other Heads of State, the Pope is not going to use a bullet proof vehicle on this trip to these troubled regions but insists on using an open Popemobile and a normal car. Against the advice of the local security operatives to use an armored car on this trip, the Pope has insisted on using an open air vehicle because he wants to be as close to the people as possible.
We may find this unsettling and maybe even judge it to be imprudent on his part but this gesture of the Pope reminds us of something that we easily ignore or choose to forget: if we are going to do today the works that Christ did, if we are going to do the will of God in this world and meet the needs of others, then we must be willing to take risks and be vulnerable before others. If we hold on to our comfort zones for our dear life, we can never hope to do the works of Christ in our world today.
St. Stephen in the First Reading is called to serve the Christian community. He meets the first condition of doing what Christ had done: “He was filled with faith and the Holy Spirit.” Stephen’s life of service freed the Twelve to “devote themselves to the prayer and the ministry of the word” such that “the word of God continued to spread and the number of the disciples in Jerusalem increased greatly.” Stephen did not only serve like Jesus, “who came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many,” he died like Jesus died when he took the risk of courageously bearing witness to Jesus before a crowd of angry Jews. He proclaimed Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of God’s saving plan. (See Acts 7) Just like Jesus, Stephen’s foes “could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke.” Like Jesus, St. Stephen also he committed his Spirit to the one who called him, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,” and prayed for and forgave those who stoned him to death, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” By so doing, the martyr prepared the way for the conversion of Saul. Filled and transformed by the Holy Spirit, St. Stephen did and endured what Christ did and endured because he was not only filled with the Spirit but also willing and ready to take a risk and be vulnerable before others.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we are now living stones in Jesus Christ because we have His Spirit in us from the moment of baptism. The “living stones” that we have become must be willing to be “built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood.” Jesus Christ continues to build up His Church by the power of this same Holy Spirit and with countless opportunities for us all to do what He has done, to experience what He has experienced and so to walk just like He has done: “I am the Way, the truth and the life.” St. peter invites us not just to come to Him (Jesus), “a living stone,” but we should also “let ourselves be built up into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” If we allow Him to build us up, we will become more like Him and then do what He has done.
The Spirit is not lacking. What we lack is the willingness to take risks and be vulnerable before others. We are reluctant to risk failure, our comforts, our reputations before others, the affection of loved ones, possible rejection by others, misunderstandings, and disappointment. In our time of political correctness, we are petrified at the thought of offending others by our Christian witness. Thus the gifts of the Spirit lies dormant in us and souls languish because the works of Christ are not made manifest.
When this fear of being vulnerable threatens to stifle the voice and prompting of the Spirit within us, let us recall that Jesus Christ, by His vulnerability, “rejected by men but chosen and precious in the sight of God.” In Him who has made us living stones, we too are chosen and precious in the sight of God even when we may be rejected, insulted, ignored or ostracized by others. We cannot do what He did if we are unwilling to be what He was and experience what He experienced.
As we encounter this same Jesus in today’s Eucharist, let us reflect on the words of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta: “He made Himself the Bread of Life. He became small, fragile and defenseless for us.” Jesus continues to take risks, to be vulnerable before us to meet our needs for eternal life. Filled with His Spirit, if we too follow His example, we shall indeed do the things that Christ has done and indeed, we can indeed do more than He has done.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!