Monday, May 3, 2010

Feast of Saints Philip and James, Apostles

(I Corinthians 15:1-8; John 14:6-14)

The relative anonymity of the apostles at least hints that none of them followed Jesus for vainglory. The New Testament portrays Peter with depth and refers to James and John in a number of situations. We also have a feeling for Thomas, but in a negative way -- because of his protestations about belief in the resurrection. Of course, we associate Judas with the foulest of characters that we have ever known or heard of. But it is hard to get a sense of what the other apostles are like.

Saints Philip and James are not exceptions to the vagueness of our knowledge. Besides appearance on the lists of apostles, Philip emerges at the beginning of John’s gospel and again near the end (which we find in today’s reading). At the beginning he seems to be on a noble search for the Messiah. But at the end he appears to miss the point of his quest by failing to recognize Jesus as the image of God the Father. In both cases we receive less sense of his personality than we have of the deacon Philip, the deacon in the Acts of the Apostles, who boldly preaches the gospel. It is unlikely that this James is “the brother of the Lord” whom the Acts of the Apostles treats as co-leader of the Jerusalem community along with Peter. He is named on New Testament lists as “son of Alphaeus,” but who is Alphaeus? A strand of tradition refers to him as “James the Less” which at least removes any pretension from his identity.

The anonymity of the apostles is instructive for us. Like them we should not follow Jesus for earthly glory. Rather we suspend our desire for fame in order to serve God by praising His name and caring for His people.