“Almighty God, Your Son revealed Himself to Philip and James and gave them the knowledge of everlasting life. Grant us perfectly to know Your Son, Jesus Christ, to be the way, the truth, and the life, and steadfastly to walk in the way that leads to eternal life; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.”
[Collect for SS. Philip & James]
The Lutheran Church reserves May 1 for the Commemoration of SS. Philip and James the Lesser, two of Jesus’ apostles. These two have been linked together in commemoration since A.D. 561, when the remains of these apostles were placed in the Church of the Apostles in Rome. While they were neither related nor traveled together in missionary endeavors, Philip and James are connected by being called to witness to Jesus’ words and works, including His death and resurrection.
The New Testament speaks little of James the Lesser. He is simply listed ninth in the roll of apostles found in the Synoptic Gospels.(Mt 10:2-4; Mk 3:14-19; Lk 6:13-16) His name appears as helping to identify one of the Marys who were followers of Jesus. Other than that, nothing is written of him. (Some biblical scholars posit that James the Lesser and James the Just, the first Bishop of Jerusalem, are the same individual.)
The New Testament tells much more about Philip. He is always listed fifth in the roll of apostles found in the Synoptic Gospels. He also figures somewhat prominently in John’s Gospel. His being from Bethsaida, the city of Peter and Andrew is mentioned.(Jn 1:43-44) Philip is the one who brings Nathanael to Jesus, so that his friend would believe that Jesus is the Promised Messiah.(Jn 1:45-51) He is the one whom Jesus asks about where to get bread to feed the five thousand in the Galilean countryside.(Jn 6:1-14) When Greek visitors are in Jerusalem at the Passover when Jesus triumphantly enters Jerusalem, Philip interacts with them.(Jn 12:20-26) And in the Upper Room on Maundy Thursday, Philip’s desire to see the Heavenly Father leads to Jesus’ teaching about His revealing the Father to His disciples.(Jn 14:1-14)
Part of Jesus’ Upper Room discourse is read as the Gospel Reading for the Commemoration of SS. Philip and James the Lesser. Jesus’ words are familiar, read often in the Easter Season and at funerals. Jesus said to Thomas: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also. From now on you do know Him and have seen Him.”(Jn 14:6-7) Those words led Philip to reveal his desire, what he truly wants: “Philip said to Him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.’”(Jn 14:8) Note what the apostle says. He does not ask for great treasure or a position of authority. Just a glimpse of the Father would be enough for Philip.
But Jesus’ answer tells Philip what he already has received: “Have I been with you so long, 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 say to you I do not speak on My own authority, but the Father who dwells in Me does His works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.”(Jn 14:9-11) Philip has already witnessed the Father: he has seen Him in what Jesus has done; he has heard Him in what Jesus has said. And now, because Jesus will be going to His Father in heaven, Philip and all of Jesus’ disciples will see the Father face to face in the places that Jesus prepares for them.
Jesus’ statement shows the unity that He has with the Father. It is a statement about His divinity. His statement also speaks of where salvation is found. To come to the Father in heaven, one must be granted access by Jesus. That access is given through what Jesus accomplishes in His life: revealing the Father’s will in what He teaches and appeasing the Father’s wrath over sin by His sacrificial death. You see the Father’s consideration of you by how He considers Jesus, His Son—raising Him from death after He laid down His life to redeem sinful humanity. Through Jesus’ work, you are made part of the divine household, sharing in the unity that He has with His Father in heaven.
That is what Philip and James bore witness to. It was the heart of their apostolic preaching, just as it was for all the others called to be Jesus’ witnesses to the world. The Epistle Reading for the day describes this well: “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In Him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”(Ep 2:19-22) Through Christ—“the Way, the Truth, and the Life”—you are given access to the Father. You are made the Father’s children, whether you are well known like Philip or simply one of the list of disciples like James.
On the commemoration day of these two apostles, the Church prays: “Almighty God, Your Son revealed Himself to Philip and James and gave them the knowledge of everlasting life. Grant us perfectly to know Your Son, Jesus Christ, to be the way, the truth, and the life, and steadfastly to walk in the way that leads to eternal life.” Because of the testimony of the apostles, you know what that Way, Truth, and Life is. Continually hearing the apostolic witness and being guided by it, you will walk in the way that leads to eternal life. For the Spirit works in you, speaking through the word that you hear and believe: “Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.”(Is 30:21) Walking straight in the path that Jesus established, you are given access the Father’s favor. On the Last Day, you will see the Father face-to-face with your own eyes. And that will be enough and plenty for you, just as it was for Philip, James, the other apostles, and all who have gone before you.