The Feast Day for James and Philip can be a difficult day to celebrate with families for the simple reason that we just don’t know much a lot about them. They are known to us primarily because they are listed among Jesus’ twelve disciples. This is true especially for James, who makes such a small impact that he’s barely even referenced in the Bible.
John’s account of the gospel credits a few pieces of dialogue to Philip although honestly, they aren’t the most flattering statements. Philip is the disciple who recruits his friend Nathaniel to follow Jesus with the words, “come and see” after Nathaniel questions if anything good can come out Nazareth. Philip starts out strong, but then falters quite a bit. Philip is the disciple who questions Jesus before the John’s account of the loaves and fishes about where they could possibly find enough money to feed the thousands of people following them. And then before they eat at the Last Supper, Philip asks Jesus to “show us the Father” so they can finally be satisfied – as if he still hasn’t figured out who it is he’s been following all this time.
It’s a wonder to me that we celebrate Philip and James at all, since so little is known about them and neither appears to play a notable role in the gospel narrative. And yet, Jesus calls them. Jesus calls both James and Philip to be among his twelve. This tells me that he sees something in them that I do not. Was it because Jesus knew Philip would risk embarrassment by asking follow up questions when he was confused? Perhaps it was his ability to put into words what the other disciples are thinking? But what about James? The questions he posed to Jesus weren’t even written down. And yet, Jesus calls them both.
The Feast of Saint Philip and Saint James makes me wonder about the faithful people throughout history whose stories were not recorded because they seemed unimportant. All the people in my life today who go unnoticed because the role they play is a humble, quiet one. We give credit to the individuals who lead social movements, while overlooking the public affairs coordinators, web designers and logistics managers. We celebrate the accomplishments of professional athletes without considering the dozens of people who devote their lives to training, nurturing and equipping them to succeed. We laud movie stars for tremendous performances, but how many of us can as easily recall the names of lighting technicians, directors of photography, camera assistants and film editors?
Today is a day to talk with your children about these people; the people we might not see but who significantly impact our lives. A perfect place to start is your church.
Children easily notice priests and their formation teachers on Sunday mornings, but what if we spent time teaching them about the sexton who cleans the church, the administrator or volunteer who creates the bulletin, the altar guild members who polish the silver and the kind souls who prepare the building and grounds before Sunday approaches?
A similar activity could happen at school, the grocery store, even inside your family home. Because getting the mail from Kristen our letter carrier is a daily highlight for my children, this afternoon I will take them to the post office so they can see the other individuals who work behind the scenes ensuring Kristen can deliver our mail each afternoon.
We remember Peter as Jesus’ Rock, Thomas as the Doubter and Judas as the Betrayer. Because James and Philip don’t have flashy stories, they don’t get a lot of attention. It’s easy to totally forget they even existed. Their Feast Day reminds me that not only those with highlighted stories and celebrity status should be remembered.
Whom can you remember today in honor of St. Philip and St. James?
Robin Neill mcGraw says
I taught Sunday School at my church for 15 years. I had a bishop, priest ,deacon, and all other assortments of people who volunteer at our church home talk to my class at various times. We also had acolytes, vergers, choir members, and bell ringers. And yes, we even had our sextons come in.
I think you forgot the story of Philip and the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch.
So often people are overlooked, of course, or do only one thing that gets remembered. My favourites are Matthias and Justus who were both considered as replacements for Judas. We don’t know why they were selected from so many followers to be the candidates, why Matthias won or why neither was ever mentioned again.
Mysteries like this should be attributed to the Holy Spirit.
Kris – Yes! I love Philip’s story with the eunuch. I intentionally left it out in this post because I wanted to focus on the canonical gospels and the roles they played during Jesus’ earthly ministry rather than the entire New Testament. I love your idea of crediting the mysteries to the Holy Spirit. Thanks for commenting.