We celebrate a feast of the apostles each month because they’re the foundation stones of our church. “Every family wants to find out how it began. We go back to the apostles because they were at the beginning of our church,” the early Christian writer Tertullian says. Today we have two together, Philip and James.
They’re celebrated together because their relics were placed side by side in the Church of the Twelve Apostles in Rome, when it was built in the 6th century. Philip was called by Jesus to follow him the day after he called Andrew and Peter, St. John’s gospel says. James, who is also called James the Less to distinguish him from James, the brother of John, was a cousin of Jesus who later became head of the church in Jerusalem and was martyred there 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 for the feast of Saints Philip and James we have 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, which brings this exasperated response from the Lord:
“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.”
On the night before he died, most of Jesus’ apostles appear in a bad light. They’re slow, uncertain, fearful–even ready to betray him. Philip isn’t the only one who can’t fathom the message or person of Jesus.
Called by Jesus, the apostles remain humanly limited. In one way, though, their humanness and slowness makes us realize where the power of our church comes from. “Not to us, O Lord, not to us be the glory!” The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ.