The Pope: The Apostle Philip

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

Continuing to sketch the portrait of the various apostles, as we have been doing for some weeks, we meet today with Philip. In the lists of the Twelve he always appears in fifth place (in Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:14; Acts 1:13), that is, essentially among the first.

Although Philip was of Jewish origin, his name is Greek, as is Andrew’s, which constitutes a small gesture of cultural openness that must not be underestimated. The news we have of him comes from the Gospel of John. He was from the same place as Peter and Andrew, namely, Bethsaida (cf. John 1:44), a small city that belonged to the tetrarchy of one of Herod the Great’s sons, who was also called Philip (cf. Luke 3:1).

The fourth Gospel says that, after being called by Jesus, Philip meets with Nathanael and tells him: “We have found him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (John 1:45). In face of Nathanael’s rather skeptical response — “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” — Philip does not give up and answers decisively: “Come and see” (John 1:46).

With this response, dry but clear, Philip demonstrates the characteristics of the authentic witness: He is not content with presenting the announcement as a theory, but questions the interlocutor directly, suggesting that he himself have the personal experience of what was proclaimed. Jesus uses those two same verbs when two disciples of John the Baptist approach him to ask him where he lives: Jesus answers: “Come and see” (cf. John 1:38-39).

We can think that Philip questions us with those two verbs which imply a personal participation. He also tells us what he said to Nathanael: “Come and see.” The apostle commits us to know Jesus up close. In fact, friendship, to truly know the other, requires closeness, what is more, in part lives from it. In fact, we must not forget that, according to what Mark writes, Jesus chose the Twelve with the primary objective that they “be with him” (Mark 3:14), that is, that they share his life and learn directly from him not only the style of his behavior, but above all who he really was.

Only thus, participating in his life, could they know and proclaim him. Later on, in the Letter of Paul to the Ephesians, we read that what is important is “the Christ that they learned” (4:20), that is, what is important is not only or above all to listen to his teachings, his words, but to know him personally, that is, his humanity and divinity, the mystery of his beauty.

He is not only a Teacher, but a Friend, more than that, a Brother. How can we know him if we are far from him? Intimacy, familiarity, custom, make us discover the true identity of Jesus Christ. This is precisely what the Apostle Philip reminds us. That is why he invites us to “come” and “see,” that is, to enter into a contact of listening, of response and communion of life with Jesus, day after day.

On the occasion of the multiplication of loaves, he received from Jesus a precise request, quite surprising: Where was it possible to buy the bread needed to feed all the people who were following him (cf. John 6:5). Then, Philip answered with much realism: “Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little” (John 6:7).

Here we can see the realism and practical spirit of the apostle, who was able to judge the implications of a situation. We know what happened afterward. We know that Jesus took the loaves, and after praying, distributed them. In this way, he effected the multiplication of the loaves. But it is an interesting fact that Jesus addressed Philip specifically, to have a first impression on the solution of the problem: evident sign that he formed part of the restricted group that surrounded him.

In another instance, very important for the future history, before the Passion, some Greeks were in Jerusalem on the occasion of the Passover, they “came to Philip … and asked him, ‘Sir, we would like to see Jesus.’ Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus” (John 12:20-22). Once again we are before a vestige of his particular prestige within the apostolic college. In this case, in particular, he carries out the functions of intermediary between the request of some Greeks — he probably spoke Greek and was able to act as interpreter — and Jesus; though he joins Andrew, the other apostle with a Greek name, in any case, the foreigners turn to him.

This teaches us also to be willing both to accept requests and invocations, wherever they come from, as well as to direct them to the Lord, as only he can satisfy them fully. It is important, in fact, to know that we are not the last recipients of the requests of those who approach us, but the Lord: We must direct to him those who are in difficulties. Each one of us must be an open path to him!

There is another highly particular opportunity in which Philip intervenes. During the Last Supper, after Jesus affirmed that to know him also meant to know the Father (cf. John 14:7), Philip, almost naively asked him: “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us” (John 14:8).

Jesus answered him in a tone of benevolent reproach: “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? […] Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (John 14:9-11). They are one of the most sublime words of the Gospel of John. They contain an authentic revelation. At the end of the “Prologue” of his Gospel, John affirms: ” No one has ever seen God. The only Son, God, who is at the Father’s side, has revealed him” (John 1:18).

Well then, that statement, which is of the evangelist, is taken up and confirmed by Jesus himself, but with a detail. In fact, while John’s “Prologue” speaks of an explanatory intervention of Jesus through the words of his teaching, in his answer to Philip, Jesus makes reference to his own person as such, leading us to understand that he can only be understood through what he says, more than that, through what he is. To help us understand, using the paradox of the Incarnation, we can say that God assumed a human face, that of Jesus, and consequently, from now on, if we really want to know the face of God, we have only to contemplate Jesus’ face! In his face we really see who God is and how he is!

The evangelist does not tell us if Philip understood Jesus’ phrase fully. What is certain is that he handed his life over to him totally. According to some subsequent accounts (“Acts of Philip” and others), our apostle evangelized Greece in the first instance and then Phrygia, and there he faced death, in Hieropolis, with a torture that some mention as crucifixion and others as stoning.

We wish to end our reflection recalling the objective toward which our life should be directed: to find Jesus, as Philip found him, trying to see in him God himself, the heavenly Father. If this commitment is lacking, we find ourselves alone with ourselves, as before a mirror, and we are ever more alone! Instead, Philip invites us to let ourselves be conquered by Jesus, to be with him and to share this indispensable company. In this way, seeing, finding God, we can find true life.

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~ by Rob on September 7, 2006.

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