‘If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.’
Philip said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 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. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it. – John 14:7-14
The Gospel reading for the commemorations of St. James and St. Philip reviews the interaction of Philip with Jesus. Jesus had stated that those disciples who had seen him had also seen God. Philip immediately asked for proof, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Philip’s request not sitting well with Jesus, he expounded about how he was in the Father and the Father was in him. Mystical, but nonetheless a teaching that Jesus hinted at more than once. Philip must not have been paying attention in class. James, fortunately, kept any such questions to himself.
James Kiefer points out that there were many Jameses in the New Testament, each with a slightly different designation – like “son of Clopas,” “son of Zebedee,” “the Greater,” and several others. Perhaps no reference to James in this passage might be due to confusion over which James was present! Kiefer does an excellent job of sorting them out as to who was who, to whom each was related, or why that particular James had a specific identifier. Perhaps the many Jameses are one and the same, each named for a different stage of life and ministry?
Today’s passage followed Passover when Jesus dismissed Judas to go and do his nefarious deed. Jesus went to the upper room where he washed the disciples’ feet and spoke to them at length about the time of his death being close. Jesus wanted them to understand all that he had taught them, whether or not they completely appreciated his teaching at the time. He was attempting to convey his whole message; his time was short. They, fore their part, would have to continue learning his teaching after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension.
James and Philip travelled with Jesus throughout his ministry. Yet even some of the closest disciples to Jesus, like Peter, still did not appreciate the fullness of the message. Was their faith shallow? Was Jesus trying to teach nuclear physics when the disciples could not pass simple addition and subtraction? Education in Jesus’s time was primarily oral learning, often by storytelling and repetition of passages; did they not pay close attention? If Jesus sent them out to heal and preach and yet they came home complaining of being unable to do so, why not?
Of course we have been taught to love our neighbors and do good to those in need for two millennia. How can I have question the disciples’ inability to catch on after just a year or three?
I have heard Bible stories my entire life, and have read them for most of that life. Yet, there are times when passages I always thought of as clear are now cloudy – as I ponder them in different ways. Perhaps the disciples had many of the same questions I now have, only without answers in the back of the book (meaning, Jesus to answer them, even if in parables and metaphors). Maybe the disciples seemed so dim so that we might learn to think the questions and lessons through and find solutions through prayer and contemplation rather than accept it literally word-for-word.
We have the Bible as a guide, but we have to learn to read it in the manner of the writers. What was familiar to them that is very different for us today. How can we reconcile the two?
Time to do some homework, lest I be called on like Philip and not have the right Jeopardy question to the answer Jesus gives.