Who He Is

Who He Is

Homily for the Day of Pentecost

June 5, 2022

Who He Is

Homily for Sunday, June 5, 2022
The Day of Pentecost
John 14:8–17, 25–27

“Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me?”

In today’s Gospel Jesus does for the first time something he does only twice in John’s Gospel: he calls someone by name: “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me?”  I want to get back to Jesus calling Philip by name—which for John is quite intimate; for in John, not even the mother of Jesus nor the Beloved Disciple are named—but first, Pentecost.

If Luke’s Pentecost is large, loud and grand—in Luke the Holy Spirit comes with “a sound like the rush of a violent wind,” and with “tongues, as of fire,” and with Peter making a speech to “all who live in Jerusalem”—in John the coming of the Holy Spirit is quiet and intimate.  Indeed, John’s “Pentecost” is so quiet and so intimate that in today’s Gospel the Holy Spirit seems to have already come without the disciples even noticing: “This… Spirit of truth,” Jesus says to them, “You know him, because he abides with you.”  And in John, when Jesus in chapter 20 finally does breathe on the disciples the Holy Spirit, there is no rushing wind, no tongues of fire, no speeches… only Jesus saying and only to the eleven, and then only behind locked doors, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (20:22).

While grateful for the ways in which Luke informs our celebration of Pentecost—today we read Luke’s account of Pentecost, we wear red (like tongues of flame), and our hymns use images from Luke of wind and fire—it is John’s account that tells us the way in which the Spirit most often enters into our lives, which is: unheard and unseen, and with little to no fanfare.  In a word, in John, the Advocate, the Spirit whom the Father will send in Jesus’ name, arrives not with fanfare or announcement, but intimately.

Over the course of his Gospel, John prepares us for the Spirit and its intimacy.  Though at first the scope of John’s Gospel is all-encompassing—“Through him all things were made,” writes John in the opening chapter; and “in him was life, and that life is the light of all people” (1:1–4)—though at first John’s scope is “all things” and “all people,” bit by bit throughout his Gospel John’s focus narrows.  Having just fed thousands on the hillside, for example, many of those who followed declared Jesus’ teaching “too difficult, who can accept it?” (6:60) and they “turned back and no longer went about with him” (6:66), so that, just verses after feeding thousands, only the twelve remain.  And space-wise the concentric circles of Jesus’ ministry likewise become more intimate.  Jesus moves from in the opening chapters roaming freely about Galilee, to Samaria (chapter 4), to “across the Jordan,” (10:40) to Bethany just outside Jerusalem (chapter 11) until he enters for the final time Jerusalem, where within a single house in an intimate setting Jesus speaks intimate words—“I have called you friends,” he says (15:15)—and shares intimate actions: Jesus “poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet” (13:5).  Over the course of his Gospel, John’s focus narrows from “all-encompassing” to “intimate.”

In this intimate scene in the house Jesus does for the first time something he does only twice in John’s Gospel: he calls someone by name—“Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me?” (The other person is Mary Magdalene at the Resurrection (20:16).)  And Jesus doesn’t call just anyone by name, but he calls Philip by name.  It is Philip who, time and again, is the practical and concrete one, who insists on evidence and seeing for oneself.  When in chapter 1 Nathanael asks Philip about Jesus, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip tells him, “Come and see” (1:46, 48)—“Come, and see for yourself that what I have told you is true.”  When in chapter 6 Jesus asks Philip about feeding the five thousand, “Where are we to buy enough bread for all these people to eat” (6:5), Philip responds, “Six month’s wages would not buy enough bread for them to get a little” (6:6)—it is Philip who knows concretely what is needed.  And in chapter 12 when some Greeks come who wish to see Jesus, they approach Philip, probably because they sense that, “This one is the practical one who is going to make this happen.”  And so Jesus—having been with Philip “all this time” and knowing that Philip is practical and concrete and values personal experience—when Philip says to him “Show us the Father, and we will be satisfied”—Jesus not only calls on Philip’s personal experience—“Have I been with you all this time?”—but, knowing how much it would mean to Philip to be so concretely addressed—Jesus calls him by name: “Have I been with you all this time, Philip?”  Knowing him intimately, Jesus engages with Philip personally, immediately, and concretely.

What Jesus offers Philip in today’s passage is similar to what Jesus offers us: that is, a relationship not only of words, nor merely of actions, but of who he is.  As he had with Philip, Jesus wants with us an immediate, personal and concrete relationship.  As he had with Philip, Jesus wants with us as an intimate relationship in which he calls us by name.  As he did Philip, Jesus loves us and hopes that we might love him in return so that (as we heard in today’s Gospel), keeping his commandments, he will ask the Father, and the Father will give another Advocate, who will be with us forever.  This is the Advocate whom to an extent we already know, because bit by bit over time—be it in the Eucharist or in worship or in the quiet moments of our lives—he has come to us, and he abides in us.

Given the evil at work in our world—the wars, the mass shootings (at least one a day in our country), the stark divisions that render our government ineffective in response, and the continued degradation of our climate and environment—and given the healing our world needs, I wonder, might we be open to a relationship in which we hear Jesus call us by name?  A relationship not merely of words, nor even of actions, but in which we more fully receive who Jesus is?  The critics are right: “Thoughts and prayers” alone are not much help.  But what if we were to live a life in which we “love him, and keep his commandments,” and in which he “asks the Father, and the Father gives to us another Advocate, who will be with us forever”?  And what if we truly were open to receive “this Spirit of truth”?  And what if we truly did know this peace that he leaves with us, his own peace he gives to us?  I wonder, if we truly could receive—as did Philip and the disciples—what Jesus offers, who he is, his very self, might we more fully embody in our lives his Advocate and more fully be as his priests helping to heal our broken world?  And the world is depending on us to receive him, because—as Jesus points out—“the world cannot receive” him, “it neither sees… nor knows him.”

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