The humanity of Jesus

THE MAIN “EVENT” of this week has, of course, been the Feast of the Ascension which has inevitably overshadowed another feast, namely that of Ss Philip and James.

Philip is an interesting character because, though he doesn’t have the profile of Peter or Andrew or John (or even Judas for quite a different reason!) his interactions with Christ make him worthy of our attention.

Originally from Bethsaida, the same town as Peter and Andrew, he was supposedly in the first instance a disciple of John the Baptist so one can assume that he was one of those sent by John to enquite “are you he who is to come or should we look for another?” It was Philip who was approached by certain Greeks seeking to speak with Jesus though why it was thought that he had particular access to his Master is unclear.

It was to Philip that Christ turned, apparently for “advice”, prior to the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand, leading to a theory in some quarters that he was charged with looking after food and other provisions for the group (their ‘quartemaster’ in effect) just as it is known, since the Gospels record it, that Judas was responsible for looking after the money.

He was also instrumental in one of the instances of bringing out an aspect of Jesus’ character that is often ignored or dismissed.

I need to be careful here because there is always the danger of straying into heresy when discussing Christ’s humanity because there is an assumption that being the Son of God (and therefore God) he must also have been the perfect man. Up to a point this has to be true. “He was like us in every way but did not sin”, Saint Paul tells us in his epistle to the Hebrews. He was tempted as we are and possessed all the qualities that go to make up a human being.

We do know, for example, that He had a temper. Somewhere around Jerusalem (if Matthew and Mark are to be believed) there was a withered fig tree to prove it! And indeed the evangelist went so far as to remark that it was hardly surprising that there were no figs because it wasn’t the season. Some temple money changers could attest to what may well have been righteous indignation on Jesus’ part, but did He have to go to the lengths of creating a cat o’ nine tails and whipping them out of the temple overturning their tables in the process?

There is no doubt either that Jesus could at times be at least on the verge of losing patience. Matthew, Mark and Luke all record the … complaint? Yes. Somebody not happy with the service from the ‘underlings’ — “I asked your disciples to cast out the spirit but they couldn’t” (2016 undertone would be …. “… and I want my money back!). Jesus’ reaction:

You unbelieving and perverse generation! How much longer must I be with you and endure you?

And in very similar words in all three texts.

And now we have poor old Philip getting it in the neck:

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”

Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves.

But there is something else in play here and our sympathy is with Philip because “anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” is only to an extent true and though we don’t know the full context of this exchange Philip’s request is not unreasonable because while intellectually it is possible to understand and agree with what Jesus has said, emotionally it is not obvious because human eyes cannot look on a purely spiritual being and while the Son has become man and is therefore visible to all who care to look, the Father has not.

Evidence, if you like, that reason can go only so far and faith must complete the journey for us.

But we should all feel encouraged in our faith by these glimpses of Jesus as human being. Not fallible in the way that the rest of us are fallible but nonetheless with some of the foibles that go towards making us human and providing us with the proof that we need and need to cling to that he knew what it was to be human and therefore knew what we have to put up with every day. It really ought to be a great comfort.


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