“Ask a Priest: Jesus is God, so why does he say ‘the Father is greater than I’?”

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Q: In John 14:28, we read: “You heard me say to you, I am going away and I am coming to you. If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I.” Are not God the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit equal to one another? What does Jesus mean when he says that the Father is greater than he is? -N.B.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: Jesus here is speaking in his humanity. As true man he recognizes the comparative greatness of God the Father. By taking on human nature, Jesus condescended to be like one of us in all things (except sin).

We might also venture to say that Jesus is also speaking as God. The Second Person of the Trinity was sent into the world by the Father. “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me” (John 4:34). It wasn’t the Son who sent the Father.

That notion, coupled with the revelation that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, implies that God the Father is a kind of “first among equals” within the Trinity. I say “kind of” in a loose sense. All three Persons are equally God.

The Trinity, of course, is a mystery that eludes understanding. Our language can’t begin to do justice to describing the dynamics of the triune God.

We can be sure, though, that Jesus is true God, equal in substance to the Father. Elsewhere the Gospel according to John affirms this. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (1:1). “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (14:9). “The Father and I are one” (10:30).

Don’t worry if all this still seems mysterious. It is. And it will ever elude our capacity to totally understand it. I hope this helps. God bless.

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