Proper 12 (17), Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B
25 July 2021
2 Kings 4:42-44
Jesus tested Philip. “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?”
But it wasn’t a test of Philip’s knowledge of the local geography, of where the next market might be, or whether Philip could recommend a good caterer to Jesus.
We’re not familiar with all the disciples. Peter, James, and John get mentioned a lot. The rest of them we hear about now and then. We hear about Philip only in the Gospel of John, but in John he is mentioned eleven times.
The wonderful thing about Philip is that his faith is really engaged. He does not always get it, but he approaches Jesus with faith. And so our first encounter with Philip is his response to Jesus. Jesus calls him and he follows. But that is not enough. “Our mouth must speak what our heart is full of.” The very next thing Philip does is that he finds Nathanael and says to him that they have found the One about whom Moses and the Prophets wrote. Nathanael objects, but Philip simply says, “Come and see!” So Philip is someone who leads others to Jesus, even as he himself is still on the way.
I want to be like Philip.
In today’s reading we have moved forward a bit.
It’s springtime. There are thousands of wildflowers, and gentle and warm sun. The fast of Passover is close.
It is also springtime in the life of Jesus. People are beginning to flock to him.
It is springtime for the disciples as well. Perhaps they begin to feel their own importance. But I don’t know if Philip feels important, perhaps being with Jesus is enough.
Jesus asks him, “Where shall we buy bread for all these people?” Jesus knows Philip’s heart and he wants Philip to respond with his heart.
I think, Philip knows that, and he begins fishing for what’s in his heart. It’s not always easy to know what’s in your heart. Sometimes we bury our faith under what we think are the responses society requires of us.
We give answers about logistics or probabilities. Or we respond defensively and territorially. Or when someone hurts us we respond with anger.
But I think that Philip knows that Jesus knows what he is about to tell him. He just hasn’t quite yet connected what he believes to the situation at hand.
We do that. We say things about God, but we’re not necessarily convinced that what we believe about God has much to do with our daily lives, or the big challenges of the world, and so we function like everyone else does, in the same paradigms and with the same models. Walter Brueggemann would say that the prevailing paradigm of the world is that of scarcity and if we believe that, we will do as much as we can to get our hands on those scarce resources so that at least we will make it.
Scarcity may understand charity, but scarcity does not know an abundance where there is enough for all. Philip may have a hunch that with God there is enough, because God is enough, but he is still searching for the right answer, like a little a while later when he asks Jesus to show them the Father. He knows that he’s on the right track because he’s close to Jesus, but what this all means he still has to figure out. He is still trying to connect the dots.
That’s pretty much like us, I’d say. We know that it’s good to be with Jesus, we know that that’s where we need to be, but we’re still working on what that means for different situations and different days, and different challenges. Sometimes we still have to discover that it does mean something for all situations, that our belief in Jesus is not detached from our everyday experiences.
At a conference a few years ago a presenter said something like this: We have such a hard time listening to the Bible because we’ve been told it’s an instruction manual, a road map, or a GPS, and all we need to do is read it once, maybe twice if it’s a really bad translation, and then we should know what to do. But the practice of the church is that we read the same stories and the same texts over and over again, for our whole lives, for God to engage our imaginations to see our life not in a mechanistic way where the only thing required is to do this or that, but in a fluid and engaging way, where God speaks to us and we need years of listening to be engaged and reshaped, to understand that the door to the Kingdom has been opened wide, and that we are God’s actors in this story.
So, Philip’s still listening. Philip is still trying to get what he already knows intuitively, that the world has been changed in Jesus. But while he is listening and thinking he states the obvious. He tells Jesus logistically what’s required, what they don’t have, and that therefore something else is needed. He eliminates certain answers so that he is more likely to find the right one.
I like Philip’s response, his attentiveness to Jesus. It is his attentiveness that allows him to become part of this story. We know what happened. Jesus asks the people to sit. He gives thanks to the Father and he distributes the gifts. There is enough for everyone and there is much left after all have been satisfied.
I have no doubt that Philip not only listened closely but that he then also was charged with helping to distribute the gifts, and to collect the leftovers at the end. Philip’s attentiveness allowed him to become part of God’s abundance, become part of God’s story, sharing God’s gifts like he did when he spoke to Nathanael.
When all is done, the masses manage to see only their full stomach’s, and not the breaking in of God’s reign where there is enough for all. But they have had a taste. Not surprisingly, Jesus and the disciples move on. Jesus continues his quest for solitude where he can pray to his Father.
When a while later he meets his disciples in the storm on the lake and he steps into the boat at their request, they have suddenly arrived. That is how it is with Jesus: When we are with him we have arrived, that is why we want to spend our whole lives with him and his people, listening, thinking, and receiving.