“The Father is greater than I.” This gospel passage is from the gospel of John. No other gospel explains the divinity of Jesus other than the gospel of John. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1). And this Word dwelt among us (v.14). Jesus is God from God, Light from Light and true God from true God, begotten not made, consubstantial with the Father. This is the fundamental proclamation of the catholic faith. But now in the same gospel, Jesus is telling, “the Father is greater than I.” This may be a confusing statement. Throughout the centuries this verse has been used to argue that Jesus is not fully divine or that he is just a human being or that he is subordinate to the Father. How do we interpret this verse as Catholics?
In the context of the whole gospel of John, this verse cannot be used to deny the divinity of Jesus because John’s gospel is structured around revealing the fullness of Jesus’ divinity. In the very first verse of the gospel, we read that the Word was with God and the Word was God. There is a distinction between the Word and God and also equality. Towards the end, we have the marvellous proclamation of Thomas “My Lord, and my God” (Jn. 20:28). In the course of the gospel, we have many “I am” statements that point to the divinity of Jesus. Thus, the fullness of Jesus’ divinity is really unquestionable in the gospel of John. So, how do we answer?
We believe that Jesus is fully divine and fully human. This verse is a part of the last supper discourse. In this context, he is focussing on his humanity that is about to be crucified and that is about to die and then to be raised and ascend to the Father. So, in his humanity, Jesus tells the disciples that the Father is greater than him. In his divinity, he is equal to the Father, which will be revealed in the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. He asks the disciples to rejoice in this because the Second Person of the Trinity is who through his incarnation assumed human flesh opens the way for us, humans, to enter into a loving relationship with the triune God. ✍️ CB