The Gospel for St Philip and St James Day is part of Jesus’s farewell discourse with the disciples before he goes to face his enemies and the Last Enemy. The Lord speaks in riddles and paradoxes and the disciples’ questionings show both bewilderment and impatience. He talks of leaving them, of some unknown Comforter after he is gone and of bringing them to some mysterious house with a lot of rooms in it.
Somehow it doesn’t sound like good news especially when he adds ‘in the world you will have tribulation’. ‘Be of good cheer I have overcome the world’ is not really helpful when the evidence appears to be to the contrary. So they press him.
Simon says ‘Why can I not go with you? I would lay down my life for you?’
Thomas ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going, how can we know the way?’
Jude ‘Lord how will you show yourself to us without the world seeing you?’
Jesus seems to have a bit of trouble getting the disciples to understand. This has been so since the beginning of their association. He may appear confident but this is the man whose spirit is troubled within him, who in a few hours’ time will pray ‘my God, my God why have you forsaken me?’
Why are they still so dull-witted? Why don’t they see?
There is so much to explain, there is so little time.
Perhaps that is what prompts his sharp answer to Philip’s request: ‘Lord show us the Father and we shall be satisfied.’
”Have I been so long with you Philip and yet you do not know me?”
Who can see the Father? Who can show the Father? Who can manipulate the Creator?
The heaven of heavens cannot contain what Philip asks for. We are a dot in the Milky Way Galaxy; there are a hundred Billion stars in that galaxy. If you begin counting one two, three… allowing one second each time it would take thirty-two years to count to one billion. Our galaxy is one of four hundred billion known galaxies. The Father made all this. The heaven of heavens can contain him.
St Philip and St James’s Day is followed by that of St Athanasius who gave his name to the Creed that says ‘the Father is incomprehensible’. This is the God that Philip wants Jesus to show to them. It is no wonder that Jesus doesn’t give him a straight answer.
‘To see me is to see the Father.’
It is also no wonder that the disciples find frustration in the paradoxes and riddles with which Jesus seeks to teach them. How can they see the Creator, the Infinite, Immortal, Invisible God in this thirty-year-old that they have followed, broke bread with and laboured beside for at least three years?
The aforementioned clause of the Athanasian Creed is followed by one that says ‘the Son, Incomprehensible’. You can’t argue with that!
But there are other paths of incomprehensibility. However we might try to understand God we find that he is unfathomable. His power, his wisdom his love are beyond the capability of human reason. In these discourses Jesus is trying to draw his disciples towards the meaning of love. These chapters of the Fourth Gospel are filled with the language of love and Jesus says ‘If you want to see the Father look at me’ Is this any more comprehensible?
No. But Love itself is a mystery. So far among all those four hundred billion, billion heavenly bodies we have only evidence of one species in which the idea of love has blossomed. And it is incomprehensible that this species with a history of greed, cruelty and brutality could develop into a race, however imperfect, in which parental and fraternal love, sacrifice, adoration, love of country, tenderness and selflessness are seen as ideals that all should strive after. Art, music poetry science even physical culture come from hearts and minds that have learned how to love.
In the last discourses Jesus is trying to spell out the meaning of love. God made humanity in his own image. God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son. Paul tells us Jesus is the image of the invisible God and here we are at the heart of the mystery of love. In giving us Christ God is sacrificing himself to save us.
Charles Dinsmore put it thus – ‘There was a cross in the heart of God before there was one set up on the green hill outside Jerusalem.’
Or as Isaac Watts put it: Were the whole realm of nature mine, That were a present far too small; Love so amazing, so divine, Demands my soul, my life, my all.
Fr John CR