Lord, Show Us the Father – Br. James Koester

Br. James Koester,

Philip and James, Apostles

At one time in my life, I had a rector who referred to this feast as that of Pip and Jim. At first, I was a little confused. I thought I had misheard him. It took a few moments to sink in. At last, it clicked. Right. Philip and James, Pip and Jim. Got it. Since then, this day has always been Pip and Jim to me.

As much as I would like to spend the next several minutes waxing eloquently about St. James the Apostle, who is the Jim half of our apostolic duo, there is actually not much to say about him. One source sums up James in these words: The son of Alpheus is often but not certainly identified with the James whose mother stood by Christ on the Cross, and also with James ‘the brother of the Lord’ who saw the risen Christ and is often called the first bishop of Jerusalem. He is also sometimes identified with the author of the Epistle of James. If none of these identifications are correct, we know practically nothing about James the Less.[1]

If what we can say about James, is cloaked in uncertainty, then there’s not a whole heck of a lot to go on. We are not even sure why he is called the Less. Was it to distinguish him from James the Great, the son of Zebedee, or from James the Brother of the Lord? Was it because he was young, or short[2]? Again, there is not much we can say with any certainty about this James the Less.

What can be said about James, comes from just a few mentions in the New Testament. He is listed among the Twelve,[3] that inner circle of disciples, where he is consistently referred to as the son of Alpheus. We know too from Acts, that he was present at the Ascension[4] and we can infer that he was one of those who had accompanied [Jesus]… beginning with the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up…[5] After that, James vanishes like the morning mist, leaving behind just one further tantalizing hint about his life, and ultimate death. His iconographic symbol is a fuller’s club, which is a heavy wooden club used to beat out impurities from wool, and is believed to have been the means of his death and martyrdom.

For James, that is all that can be said, which in truth is practically nothing, at least nothing certain.

The situation with Philip is very different than that of James, at least as John’s gospel portrays him. Philip appears four times in John’s gospel, and in fact is named more times in John’s gospel than any other disciple, expect Peter and the Beloved Disciple. Each time his appearance is significant, leading as they do, to a further and greater revelation of who Jesus is.

The first time we meet Philip is at the very beginning of the gospel, just after Jesus’ baptism by John. We read:

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me.’ Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.’ Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’ [6] Philip’s confession of faith, we have found him about whom Moses and also the prophets wrote brings a curious Nathanael into an encounter with Jesus whom he immediately confesses as the Son of God and King of Israel.[7]

This role of bringing others into an encounter with Jesus is one Philip is to play again later in the gospel. But before that, we see him next in the story of the feeding of the five thousand. There ever-practical Philip demonstrates one of his chief characteristics.

When [Jesus] looked up and saw a large crowd coming towards him, [he] said to Philip, ‘Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?’ He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, ‘Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.’[8]

Philip is being perfectly practical here, and sees the situation in terms of what is practically possible. He looks out at the crowd, and sees not what might be possible, but what is practical. ‘Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.’ But in this very practical outlook, he helps sets the stage, enabling others to discover Jesus for themselves. The story, as you know, moves on to the miracle of the loaves and fish, made possible by a young lad sharing his lunch, and resulting in a super abundance of food, and with some left over.

Like the first time we saw Philip enabling an encounter between Nathanael and Jesus, the one about whom Moses and the prophets spoke, here Philip again makes it possible for others to encounter, Jesus the prophet who is to come into the world.[9]

Significantly, Philip plays this role of bridge one more time.

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’ Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus.[10]

It is a curious passage, made even more so by Jesus’ reply. He doesn’t say, I’d love to meet your friends, Pip! Instead, Jesus says, the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.[11] The encounter Philip enables here, albeit unknowingly, is one with the glorified Son of Man, and we begin to walk the way that gives us life and immortality, through the events of the Mount of Olives, the Upper Room, Gethsemane, Calvary, and the Empty Tomb. It is a way which ends, not at the Empty Tomb, or with the Ascension, or in the Upper Room, or on the Day of Pentecost. It is a way which ends when with Philip, we have seen the Father.

‘Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.’[12]

The paradox, at least for Philip, is that it is the Father he has been seeing since that very first encounter with Jesus, after the Baptism of John. It is the Father to whom he has been bringing people, ever since he brought Nathanael to Jesus. It is the Father he has seen all along.

‘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….[13]

For as the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us, Jesus is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being.[14] And as Colossians teaches us, Jesus is the image of the invisible God.[15]

It is this Jesus, the Jesus of Hebrews and Colossians, reflection, and imprint, and image of the Father who says today to Philip, and indeed to us, whoever has seen me has seen the Father.

Throughout the gospel Philip’s role is to act as a bridge builder and stage setter, connecting others to Jesus, and helping them to come to Jesus. We see this in the call of Nathanael; in the story of the feeding of the multitudes; and in the encounter with the Greeks. In each case Philip acts as a connector, or stage setter, so that others can encounter Jesus, and see for themselves who he truly is.

Curiously, it is not until the end, if even then, that Philip saw for himself, what had been before him all along, and to whom he had led so many along the way. That this Jesus to whom he had given his life, who was reflection, and imprint, and image of God’s very being and likeness, and glory, was indeed one with the Father.[16]

And it is this Jesus, the one who is one with the Father, that Philip points us toward today. If we do not yet see it, that’s okay. Philip didn’t for the longest time, and he can be our companion and friend, as we say with him, Lord, show us the Father.

[1] Farmer, David, Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Oxford University Press, 2011

[2] Lesser Feasts and Fasts, Church Publishing, 2022, page 212

[3] Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6: 15

[4] Acts 1: 13

[5] Acts 1: 21, 22

[6] John 1: 43 – 46

[7] John 1: 49

[8] John 6: 5 – 7

[9] John 6: 14

[10] John 12: 20 – 22

[11] John 12: 23

[12] John 14: 8

[13] John 14: 9 – 11

[14] Hebrews 1: 3

[15] Colossians 1: 15

[16] John 10: 30

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  1. Reed Saunders on May 1, 2024 at 06:22

    Thanks Br James for shining light on the true nature of God made incarnate in Jesus Christ. I have had so many misperceptions, doubts and fears about God and Jesus alone removes my suspicions to continually reveal God’s love and compassion.

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