St Philip (May 3)
Most of what is known about the Apostle Philip is found in the fourth Gospel. Like the brothers Simon Peter and Andrew, he came from Bethsaida, at the north-east corner of the Lake of Galilee.
Even the site of Bethsaida is now uncertain. Was it the small settlement on the shore of the lake, or the larger one on higher, stony ground one and a half miles inland? Perhaps it was both, with the main town on the dry land above the lake, and the fishing port on the flood plain below.
If that was the case, and if the Sermon on the Mount was preached nearby, Peter, Andrew and Philip would certainly have understood the difference between the house built on rock which stands fast, and the house built on insecure foundations, which is carried away by the river (Luke 6:47-49).
Philip’s calling is undramatic; he simply obeys Jesus’s instruction: “Follow me.” But there can be no doubt of his enthusiasm. “We have discovered who it was Moses wrote of in his law, and the prophets too,” he tells Nathaniel. “It is Jesus, the son of Joseph, from Nazareth.” “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” demands the cynical Nathaniel. “Come and see,” the more simple Philip replies.
There follows one of the most telling illustrations of Jesus’s human personality in the New Testament. “Jesus saw Nathaniel coming towards him, and said of him: ‘Here comes one who belongs to the true Israel; there is no falsehood in him.’” “How dost thou know me?” Nathaniel returns.
“I saw thee when thou wast standing under a fig tree, before Philip called thee,” Jesus explains.
Nathaniel then makes a ringing declaration of faith: “Thou, Master, art the son of God, thou art the King of Israel.” To which Jesus replies, with a delightful mixture of good-humoured mockery and irony: “What, believe because I told thee that I saw thee under the fig tree? Thou shalt see greater things than that” (John 1:45-51).
Later in St John, Philip’s accountant’s calculation is used to set up the miracle of the Feeding of the Five Thousand: “Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” Was Philip a Greek, as his name suggests? Certainly some Greeks applied to him for access to Jesus (John 12:21).
In Chapter 14 Philip demands assurance in his faith: “Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied.” “Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip?” Jesus replies. “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” Tradition has it that Philip preached in Phrygia (the west central part of modern Turkey) and was crucified at Hierapolis.