Philip said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.
‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. (NRSV).
Philip’s question comes amidst Jesus’ claim that he is ‘going away’.
The disciples are uncomfortable. They are used to Jesus’ presence. They are also confused by this claim that they already ‘know the way’. Jesus tried to clarify: ‘I am the way the truth and the life’. They remain dumbfounded.
Is he really so sure they know the Father in the same way they know him?
It is a big claim. The disciples have walked the roads of Israel with Jesus. They ate their meals with him and witnessed him heal with a touch. Perhaps no one knows him better than these eleven faithful men. Indeed, they are of the few who could truly say that Jesus: ‘…lived among us and we have seen his glory…’.
But it is for them a leap of faith to equate this pilgrimage with knowing ‘the Father’.
So Philip asks to see God.
Jesus’ does not respond by tearing apart the veil between heaven and earth. He does not escort them through the hallways of God’s throne room. He does not pray for another booming voice. Each would certainly have answered Philip’s question.
But instead of such drama Jesus points to himself. Indeed he seems somewhat surprised that the question is even asked. After all this time – years spent living out the oneness of the Godhead before them – are they still unseeing?
Jesus is using words. But he has not always. Indeed, since taking them from their various professions he has been doing the ‘works’ of God before them. To Jesus this is a demonstration of the oneness of God and himself. Each work, as John says, was a sign. Jesus’ work was to post signs that pointed to God.
Do they still not know the way?
More is at stake here than the disciple’s knowledge. Jesus moves quickly to the heart of the matter – the ability of these eleven to carry on his legacy: ‘…the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact will do greater works…’. Will these unbelieving students ever be ready to take up the task of erecting God’s signs across the globe?
Essentially, Jesus is asking that they begin to work directly with the Father – that they may know God’s presence well enough to confidently write, symbolise, and signal their divine message: God is here.
Of course, this will not make Jesus redundant. He will ask his Father to send one – an Advocate – among them. The role of this ‘Spirit of truth’ will be to remind them of all Jesus has taught. The Spirit, sent by the Father, at the request of the Son.
And he will abide with us.
What an Advocate this Spirit is. By the time John wrote his Gospel he had certainly come to see the Father. His famous opening reveals that Philips question was more than answered: ‘No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.’ (John 1:18).