At this morning’s BCP Festal Eucharist, Stephen Srikantha preached for us, challenging us to think about the vulnerability of knowing Christ, and Christ knowing us. You can read the full text below.
Homily for the feast of Philip and James
Philip saith unto him, ‘Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us.’ Jesus saith unto him, ‘Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip?’
To me, it feels like Jesus’s reply to Philip carries some pain. Philip has accompanied Jesus for so long and they have shared the bond of friendship. However, this has not been enough. Jesus’s sharing of who he is, Jesus opening himself up to his friends and becoming vulnerable amongst them, Jesus trusting his friends to support him in his mission – all this has not been enough for Philip. He doesn’t feel that he knows Jesus. The intimacy of Jesus’s friendship has not been enough. Philip wants more evidence to know that he can trust Jesus.
Knowing about someone is not all that difficult. I can know about someone from a distance – keeping my sense of who I am invulnerably intact. I don’t need to enter into any meaningful, trusting relationship to know about someone. I can avoid all the complications of human relationships. I don’t need to enter the messiness of someone else. Knowing about someone feels safe and cost free.
However, knowing someone – not just knowing about them – but knowing them with our heart as well as our head, is much more complicated. We are faced with the reality of another person – with all their desires, needs and vulnerabilities. To know someone we need to enter into relationship with them. We will need to spend our time and energy. We need to trust them and risk ourselves being affected by them. Knowing someone doesn’t have the same safe distance as simply knowing about them.
Today, as we celebrate the life and witness of Philip and James, remembering their friendship with Christ, I am left wondering whether I know Jesus or know about him. Have I reduced him to an object to be studied… someone, almost something, about whom the more information I know, the more I can satisfy my own self-indulgent curiosities? Have I forgotten that the calling to the priesthood has, at its heart, the intimacy of friendship with Christ – the sort of intimacy that I cannot get simply by reading books or learning any form of professionalisms?
In today’s world, with its thirst for knowledge about things and people, it is tempting to prefer to know about Christ than to know him, as a friend, with the heart. It is tempting to maintain a safe distance between Christ and us. Rather than risking being moved by Christ, going wherever he goes, it is tempting to use him to achieve our pre-formed goals and ambitions. It is easy to neglect the need to spend time and energy in seeking the intimacy of Christ, praying for our hearts to be united to his; to love as he loves. Perhaps, had Philip known Christ with his heart, had he stepped out of himself and allowed himself to accept something of the love of Christ, he might not have asked to see the Father. Perhaps Philip would have known that the heart of Christ, the heart that so loves humanity that it is prepared to be broken by and for it – this heart, is none other than the heart of the eternal God.
Even if we, like the apostles, fail to appreciate the love of Christ, fail to know him truly, we can still be sure that Christ will not stop treasuring us in his heart: ‘Let not your heart be troubled.’ It is sensing this, the pardon and peace of the love of the risen Christ that must have strengthened the apostles to preach the Gospel. Let us pray that we too might be strengthened by knowing Christ intimately and being known by him. Amen.