“Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12)
This is one of the most amazing verses in the Bible. How could any of us do greater works than Jesus? If Jesus himself had not explicitly said we were capable of works greater than his, such a thought would probably never occur to us.
But what was Jesus’ greatest work? Was it walking on water, feeding thousands with a few loaves and fishes, or raising Lazarus from the dead? These are truly amazing works, but there is one even greater: the forgiveness of sins. Many people were amazed by the miracles Jesus performed. But they were scandalized by Jesus’ claim to forgive sins, since this was something only God could do.
Forgiveness is the only power great enough to overcome the cycle of violence that divides people into victims and perpetrators. Jesus demonstrated the power of forgiveness in his ministry by bringing together people that the world cast in the role of enemies. For example, the first disciples Jesus called were working class fishermen (Peter, James, and John) who were probably eager to see the Roman Empire overthrown, and a wealthy tax collector (Levi) who earned a living taxing his own people on behalf of the Roman government. When he was a guest at a Pharisee’s house, Jesus permitted a “sinful woman” to join the banquet with the religious leaders. And when Jesus was nailed to the cross, the thief crucified next to him and a centurion overseeing their execution both recognized Jesus as the Son of God.
Jesus’ forgiveness was so powerful it extended from those in the most secure positions to those in the most insecure positions—even those whose hands and feet would never again be unbound, and who only had hours left to live—like the thief on the cross.
Forgiveness frees people to live in love with God and others rather than fear. Jesus called forgiveness the “key to the kingdom,” and he passed this key along to his disciples (Matt. 16:19; Luke 6:37; John 20:23).
Interceding for others’ sin and mediating forgiveness is a priestly responsibility, and whenever we forgive others, we are serving as priests whether our particular denomination recognizes our ordination to this role or not.
Jesus has taken the heavy burden of all our sins upon himself, and offers us the light burden of forgiveness (Matt. 11:28–30). Once we take up this burden, it’s nearly impossible to keep it to ourselves. Every offense becomes a new opportunity to practice our priesthood and perform the work that only Jesus could make possible: forgiveness, the greatest work of all.
Of course, the greatest work is also the most challenging. The articles in this issue of Mutuality offer insight on the nature of forgiveness and healing, as well as examples of how to practice it faithfully.
The good sower casts seeds in the most unlikely places. Jesus’ cry on the cross, “Father, forgive…” fell from his lips to the crowd below like seeds cast in the mostly unlikely place of all. Faithful hearers of this word will nevertheless treasure it in their hearts, where it may take root and bear fruit of the Spirit.