Friday, May 1, 2009
SS. James and Philip: Little More Than Names
St. James the Lesser/Younger (left)
St. Philip (right)
As with so many other notable holy men and women in the Church's history, what do you say about James and Philip when so little has ever been said or written about them? It has always seemed to me that the various lives of the saints and the martyrologies which used to, very unappetizingly, serve as table reading as I was trying to savor a hunk of meatloaf or some potatoes and gravy in the seminary refectory, were just a little too good to be true. I found myself certainly acknowledging their virtues and the good they did for humanity, but, c'mon, they had to have a lot of flaws too. I guess what I was hungry for was an honest-to-goodness account of how these folks were in their everyday human lives, warts and all. I guess the best one can do in speaking about the saints is to gather as much factual information about them as possible and draw some reasonable conclusions without unwarranted embellishing in order to make them "look good". So it is with James and Philip.
What we do know about James and Philip is that they're both mentioned in the Gospel accounts. James, through the centuries, got tagged "the Younger" or "the Lesser", apparently mostly to distinguish him from James, son of Zebedee and, along with his brother, John, one of the "sons of thunder". It was also to distinguish him from James, the brother of the Lord, who has gotten some major press coverage since his possible ossuary was discovered in Israel in 2002. Other commentators opine that he might have been a "shortie" in stature or actually a young man in age. Apparently favoring the latter, the writers of Celebrating the Saints, a collection dealing with saints of the Church of England's calendar, as well as the writers of the Episcopal Church's Lesser Feasts and Fasts - 2006, both refer to "...'James the Younger', who, in Mark's Gospel, is a witness at the Crucifixion" (CTS) and "...James the younger, who, with his mother Mary and the other women, watched the crucifixion from a distance." (LF&F) I would make two observations: 1) the text, both in Greek and in all the English translations I've seen, clearly does NOT say that James witnessed the crucifixion. Perhaps one could read the text as reasonably implying or hinting that he did, but I don't think that's what the text says. In fact, the text makes a big deal about the women who had consistently followed and supported Jesus' ministry, while the male disciples had wimped out on him at the end. 2) The Greek word which Mark uses is mikros, which, according to Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, indicates seems to refer to size or stature, physical or otherwise. Luke, in the Prodigal Son parable, and Paul use the term neoteros, as in "the younger son". Personally, I would like the meaning to be "younger", because it'd be a great model for our young people to know that one their age was at the foot of the Cross, and also because it rings true of how a younger man would put himself out there in support of Jesus, in comparison to the older disciples who fearfully ran away. Whatever. I'll continue to think of him as "the Younger", even without scholarly backing, invoking an old axiom from Native American storytelling: "I don't know if happened exactly this way, but I know it's true."
So, James, "Lesser" or "Younger", is mentioned in all three Synoptic Gospels as "James, son of Alphaeus", and at least his mother, Mary, and brother (?), Joses or Joseph, are mentioned by Mark and Matthew. Beyond that we know nothing of James.
Philip, on the other hand, has a higher Scriptural profile. A Bethsaida boy, along with Peter and Andrew, and the third Apostle to be called, he convinced his skeptical pal, Nathanael (possibly identified later as Bartholomew the Apostle), to come see and eventually accept Jesus as God's Son. In Philip's other cameos in the Gospel, he's shown as a little slow on the up-take: when Jesus asks, "Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?", Philip can only manage: "Six months' wages wouldn't buy enough bread for each of them to get a little." "And so....", Jesus is probably thinking. At this point Peter jumps in to help his compatriot save face by announcing that there's a kid in the crowd with five barley loaves and two fish. Even he adds, "But what are they among so many people?" Jesus simply says, "Make the people sit down."
Later, Philip is the one whom some Greeks approach in order to get an audience. "Sir, we wish to see Jesus." Philip goes immediately and tells Andrew, then together they go and tell Jesus. Unfortunately, at this point in John's telling of the story in his Gospel account, John gets caught up in what Jesus was preaching at the time, and leaves us hanging as to whether or not Philip and Andrew are able to get the Greeks backstage.
Finally, at the Last Supper, Jesus is pouring his heart out to his friends, knowing that he's about to die, trying to prepare them all for the responsibility they need to take when that happens. As he talks about the Father, Philip breaks in with a request: "Lord, show us the Father, and we'll be satisfied." Probably suppressing a groan, perhaps oft-repeated during the previous three years that he'd lived and travelled and taught with these, forgive me, knuckleheads, Jesus asks plaintively: "Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still don't know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father?'..."
David Veal, in Saints Galore, provides a most reasonable conclusion to these thoughts:
"Philip and James are little more than names to us today.
One cannot imagine their being saddened by this fact
since this community and the Christ it knows lives on.
'For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ
as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake'"