Saints Philip and James

Saints Philip and James. Duccio

We celebrate a feast of the apostles each month. Why? Every family wants to find out how it began. Our church began with the apostles. Today, May 3rd, we remember two apostles together, Philip and James.

They’re celebrated together because their relics were placed side by side in the Church of the Twelve Apostles when it was built in Rome in the 6th century. Philip was called by Jesus to follow him the day after he called Andrew and Peter. (John 1:43-45)

James, who is also called James the Less to distinguish him from James, the brother of John, was the son of Alpheus and a cousin of Jesus. He  later became head of the church in Jerusalem. His mother Mary, stood with Mary the mother of Jesus and Mary Magdalen beneath the cross of Jesus. (John 19: 25)  He was martyred in Jerusalem in the year 62.

On a feast of an apostle you expect to hear one or more of his heroic acts or wise sayings, but in today’s reading from St. John’s gospel  we hear instead an apostle’s clumsy question. During his Farewell Discourse, Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, then you will also know my Father.”

“Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” Philip says to Jesus, who responds:

“Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? 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 speak to you I do not speak on my own.”

Can we hear exasperation in Jesus’s words? Some commentators think so.  Jesus’ apostles are slow to understand him, uncertain, fearful–even ready to betray him. Philip isn’t the only one who can’t fathom Jesus and his message. 

Called by Jesus, they’re human. Their humanness and slowness makes us realize where our power comes from. “Not to us, O Lord, not to us be the glory!” The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ.

But before we dismiss Philip, let’s remember he pointed Jesus out to Nathaniel at the Jordan River and he brought Greek visitors to Jerusalem to Jesus as he was entering the city to die on a cross. ( John 12: 20-23) He never stopped pointing to the One whom he tried to understand. It was an apostle’s gift.

The apostles make us realize the patience of Jesus, which is the patience of God. They  reveal the different gifts and weaknesses found in the followers of Jesus.

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