Commentaries on Saints Philip and James, Apostles We celebrate today the feast of two of the Twelve Apostles – James and Philip.
James is known as the ‘son of Alphaeus’ and, to be honest, we know practically nothing about him beyond his name and that he was chosen to be one of the inner circle of Jesus’ disciples – the Twelve. He is known as ‘James the Less’ and is not to be confused with James, one of the two sons of Zebedee, known as ‘James the Greater’. Nor is he to be confused with James, son of Clopas in the Acts of the Apostles, who was a “brother” (cousin) of Jesus, later ‘bishop’ of Jerusalem and the traditional author of the Letter of James.
Philip: Philip came from the same town as Peter and Andrew, Bethsaida in Galilee. In the first chapter of John’s gospel we see Jesus calling him directly, whereupon he went in search of Nathanael and told him about the “one about whom Moses wrote” (John 1:43-45). Philip comes across as someone who is rather innocent and naïve and it takes him some time to acknowledge the full identity of Jesus. His character comes across in two incidents in the Gospel, one of which is described in the Gospel reading.
The other took place when Jesus had crossed Lake Galilee in a boat with his disciples and was faced by a huge crowd of people waiting for him (John 6:1ff). The people were hungry in both body and spirit. Knowing how he was going to deal with the situation, Jesus teasingly asked the simple Philip where they could get bread to feed such a huge crowd. John comments, “[Jesus] said this to test him, because he himself knew what he was going to do” (John 6:6). Philip innocently replied, “Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have even a little.” (John 6:7). In other words, there was no way it could be done. But Philip would very soon find out how the problem would be solved, namely, when a small boy gave generously gave away his lunch of five loaves and two fish.
Because Philip’s name was Greek (Philippos, Filippos, literally, ‘lover of horses’), we are told that one day two ‘Greeks’, probably converts to Judaism, approached him and his companion, Andrew (Andreos, ’Andreos, also a Greek name, meaning ‘manly’), and said they wanted to “see Jesus”. Jesus is in Jerusalem and it is on the even of his Passion. When told about this request, Jesus replied enigmatically with the image of the seed having to fall into the ground and die before it gave fruit. Clearly, it was a way of telling these men that ‘seeing’ Jesus was much more than seeing his exterior; they would also have to grasp the inner meaning of his sacrificial death as an essential part of his identity.
Readings: 1 Cor 15:1-8; Ps 18; John 14:6-14
The Gospel reading features Philip’s final appearance in the Gospel account. It happens during the long account of the Last Supper which we find in John and where Jesus speaks at length to his disciples. They must have been in somewhat of a confused state, knowing that the enemies of Jesus were practically outside the door waiting to destroy him. There were still many parts of Jesus’ teaching that they did not understand.
Jesus, who is soon about to leave them, tells them not to worry as he is preparing a place where they and he will be together. “Where I am going you know the way,” he tells them. Thomas, the chronic grumbler, interjects: “We do not know where you are going; how can we possible know the way?” Jesus gently replies: “I AM the Way – and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Perhaps we should be grateful to the cranky Thomas for eliciting such a beautiful and meaningful answer from Jesus. He is not just A way; he is THE Way. There is no other way to God except through him and with him. For the simple reason that he is the Word of God; he is God expressed through human nature. To be like Jesus, then, is to be like God through our humanity. This is something not just for believing Christians; it is simply the Way for every human being who wants to live a truly meaningful life.
Jesus then spells out the meaning of what he has just said. “If you know me, then you will also know my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” But this is a bit too much for Philip, “Master, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” One can almost hear the sigh in Jesus’ voice, “Philip, have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?”
Jesus’ reply is simply another way of saying that he is the Way. To know the inner meaning of Jesus’ life and to make it one’s own is to know the Father because Jesus is the em-bodi-ment, the in-carn-ation of the Father in human form. Again, we are grateful to Philip for his question. And that is the last appearance of Philip in the Gospel or, for that matter, in the rest of the New Testament. Nor does James, son of Alphaeus, appear again
However, the example of these two men among the 12 foundation stones on which Jesus’ work would be built and grow should be a lesson to us how God can carry out his plans with what seem rather inferior materials. By everywhere preaching the gospel (cf. Mark 16:20), the apostles sowed the seed of what would be a worldwide community against which the ‘gates of hell’ would not prevail. It is a message to each one of us that, no matter what our gifts or lack of them, we are called to show others the Way that is Truth and Life. Paul, too, who did so much to plant the Gospel in so many places, was all too aware of his own weaknesses and even prayed to be rid of them. He tells us his many prayers were answered by his becoming aware that “when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).
In the First Reading from the First Letter to the Corinthians, Paul speaks of his calling to be an Apostle. He wants the Christians of Corinth to be mindful of the message he preached to them and on which their Christian faith stands. It is a faith which will bring them salvation and life unending. Paul emphasises strongly that it was not his own message he was preaching but what he received from Jesus Christ, the Word of God.
The essence of that message was that Christ died for our sinfulness, that he was buried and raised three days later and finally that, after his resurrection, he appeared to Peter and all the Apostles. He then appeared to 500 disciples, some of whom had already died, and then to James (whose feast we are celebrating today) and all the rest of the Apostles. Finally, says Paul, he appeared to Paul himself, as to one born unexpectedly. After all, Paul had been a fierce persecutor of the followers of Christ and the last person one expect to be an Apostle.
It is thanks to all of these people that the message of Christ and his Gospel has reached us and it reminds us that we, too, have the same obligation to pass on the Good News of Christ to others if they are to share the privileged experience we have had.