Tuesday, September 12, 2006

"He Invites Us to Come and See Jesus"

Catechesis on the Apostle Phillip
General Audience, September 6, 2006
His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI

Continuing with the portraits of the Apostles, as we have done for several weeks, today we meet Phillip. In the list of the Twelve Apostles, he is always mentioned in fifth place (as in Mt 10,3; Mk 3,18; Lk 6,14; Acts 1,13), therefore substantially among the first. Although Philip was Jewish, his name is Greek, like that of Andrew, and this is a sign of cultural openness that we should not underestimate.

The information we have about him is provided by the Gospel of John. He came from the same place as Peter and Andrew, Bethsaida (cfr Jn 1,44), a little town under the tetrarchy of one of the sons of Herodthe Great who was also called Philip (cfr Lk 3,1). The Fourth Gospel tells us that, after having been called by Jesus, Philip encountered Nathaniel and told him: "We have found him about whom Moses wrote in the Laws, and the Prophets (as well), Jesus, son of Joseph, of Nazareth (Jn 1,45).

To the rather skeptical answer of Nathaniel ("But can anything good come out of Nazareth?"), Philip did not yield and answered decisively: "Come and see!" (Jn 1,46). In this response, dry but clear, Philip manifested the characteristics of a true witness: he does not content himself with making the announcement, like a theory, but directly challenges his interlocutor by suggesting that he himself make a personal experience of what he is being told.

The same verbs were used by Jesus Himself when the two disciples of John the Baptist came to ask Him where He lived. Jesus replied, "Come and see!" (cfr Jn 1,38-39).

We can think that Philip is also addressing us with those two verbs which presume a personal involvement. Even to us, he says as he did to Nathaniel: "Come and see." The Apostle enjoins us to know Jesus from up close. Indeed, friendship, a true acquaintance with the other, requires nearness, even thrives from such intimacy.

Moreover, we should not forget that, according to Mark, Jesus chose the Twelve with the primary purpose that "they should be with Him" (Mk 3,14), that is, that they should share His life and behavior, but above all, share who He truly is. In fact, only by participating in His life could they know Him so they could later proclaim Him.

Later, in the Letter of Paul to the Ephesians, we will read that the important thing is "to learn Christ" (4,20), therefore not only to listen to His teachings, His words, but to know Him in person, His humanity and His divinity, His mystery, His beauty. He in fact is not only a Teacher but a Friend, a Brother. How can we know Him well if we stay far from Him? Intimacy, familiarity, habit make us discover the true identity of Jesus Christ.

And that is what the apostle Philip reminds us. That is why he invites us to 'come" nearer, to 'see,' that is, to enter into a contact that means listening, responding and a communion of life with Jesus day after day.

Later, Philip, at the miracle of the loaves of bread, received from Jesus a specific request, which is somewhat surprising - where, He asked, could enough bread be bought to feed all the people who followed Him (cfr Jn 6.5). Philip answered realistically: "Two hundred denarii will not suffice even to give each of them a piece" (Jn 6.7). We see here the concreteness and realism of the Apostle, who could estimate the cost required by the situation.

We know how things turned out. We know that Jesus took the bread, and after praying, He distributed it. And the loaves of bread multiplied. But itis interesting that Jesus turned to Philip for a first indication of how to solve the problem: it is an evident sign that Philip was part of the narrow circle that surrounded Him.

On another occasion, which was very important for future history, just before the Passion, some Greek travelers who were in Jerusalem for the Passover "approached Philip...and said to him, "We want to see Jesus.' Philip went and told Andrew, and then both went to tell Jesus" (Jn q12.20-22). Once more, we have an indication of Philip's special prestige within that first apostolic college. Above all, in this case, he becomes the intermediary between these Greeks - very likely he spoke Greek and could be their interpreter - and Jesus. Even if he goes to Andrew, the other apostle with a Greek name, it is to him, Philip, that the foreigners first addressed themselves.

This teaches us that even we should always be ready - to receive questions and calls for assistance from whomever these may come from, and to orient them to the Lord, the only one who can give full satisfaction. It is, in fact, important to realize that we are not the ultimate addressees of any calls for assistance that reach us, it is the Lord, and we should direct whoever finds Himself in need to Him. Each of us should be a way that leads to Him.

There is another very specific situation in which Philip makes the scene. During the Last Supper, after Jesus had declared that to know Him was to know the Father (cfr Jn 14,7), Philip, almost ingenuously, says: "Lord, show us the Father and it will be enough" (Jn 14,8).

Jesus replied to him with benevolent reproach, "Philip, you have been with me so long and still you do not know Me? Whoever sees me sees the Father. How can you say, Show us the Father? Don't you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?...Believe me,I am in the Father, and the Father is in me." (Jn 14,9-11).

These words are among the most elevated in the Gospel of John. They contain a true revelation. At the end of the Prologue to his Gospel, John says: "No one has seen God; but it is His only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, who has shown Him to us" (Jn 1,18).

So, that declaration by the evangelist is taken up and confirmed by Jesus Himself. But with a difference. While the Johannine prologue speaks of knowing who Jesus is through His teachings, Jesus in His response to Philip refers to Himself as such directly, making us understand that it is possible to know Him not only through what He says but even more simply through who He is.

To express it through the paradox of the Incarnation, we can say that God took on a human face, that of Jesus, and from that time on, if we truly want to know the face of God, we only have to contemplate the face of Jesus! In His face, we truly see who God is and how God is!

The evangelist does not tell us if Philip fully understood what Jesus told him at that time. What we know is that he dedicated his entire life to Jesus. According to later accounts (Acts of Philip and others), our Apostle first preached in Greece then in Phrygia where he died in Gerapolis through a torture that has been variously described as crucifixion or stoning to death.

Let us conclude our reflection by recalling the purpose which our life should have: to encounter Jesus as Philip encountered Him, seeking to see in Him God Himself, the celestial Father. If we lack this commitment, we will see ourselves simply reflected back to us as in a mirror, and we will always be alone. Philip teaches us to let ourselves be conquered by Jesus, to stay with Him, and to invite others to share His indispensable company. And in seeing and finding God, we find true life.

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