“Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”
Philip makes this bold request during a long conversation Jesus is having with his friends near the end of his ministry and his life. Scholars call this his Farewell Discourse, because Jesus was trying to prepare his followers for the events of his Passion, trying to help them get ready to say goodbye and to move into a new phase in their life together. The disciples, as usual, were having a hard time understanding what he was talking about, which led to more than one rather interesting exchange.
To be honest, many people today have a hard time with this discourse too, and especially with much of what we hear in today’s Gospel. It feels exclusive, with its heavily gendered language for God. And it also feels hurtful, because of a long history of it being used as a weapon against people of other faiths. So let’s be clear—this passage is not about who gets into heaven. As I’ve said before, that was simply not the primary concern of Jesus or his followers. To insist on reading the text that way is to do violence to it and to our own faith.
Still, even if it did come from a place of confusion and limited understanding, there is something very profound about Philip’s request: “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” It will remind some of us of Thomas saying that he wanted to see and touch the wounds in Jesus’s body in order to believe. It might also remind us of an earlier episode in the Gospel of John, when some Greeks approach Philip and ask a similar question, “Sir,” they say, “we want to see Jesus.” It is interesting that earlier on Philip was the one being asked, and now he is the one doing the asking. Maybe that suggests that discipleship is not a linear process; we don’t ever really become an expert in this following Jesus stuff. It is not a sign of weakness that we ask questions, or ask for help, or that we want to see evidence that our faith really means something. It is a sign of our faithfulness, and of the stubbornness of our hope. It is a sign that we care. The God we meet in Scripture is a God who sees and is satisfied with his Creation; our desire to see and our desire to be satisfied are therefore holy desires, desires that can and should bring us closer to God and one another.
So where do we see God in our own lives today? Primarily, we are designed to see God in community and in one another. Remember that in our Baptismal Covenant we promise to seek Christ in all persons, and to serve the Christ in them. Taken literally, it’s an odd idea, but taken seriously, it can be life-changing. It’s true that I don’t know many people who are able to calm a storm at sea with a word, or feed thousands of hungry people with five loaves and two fish. But I do know a lot of people who live lives of love and openness, whose very beings are marked by gratitude and grace. I bet you know a lot of people like that, too. These people are living like Jesus, whether or not they ever accomplish something spectacular in the eyes of the world. As the writer Annie Dillard has said, “How we spend our days is how we spend our lives.” In other words, most often it is not the big, theatrical acts of heroism that make the most difference in the world but an accumulation of the small, quotidian acts of compassion and courage and mercy that over time do in fact move mountains, feed the hungry, and calm raging storms.
It is also true that the Bible and our tradition offer us many stories of people whose lives were so filled with God’s spirit that they were able to accomplish seemingly impossible things. Today’s reading from the Book of Acts, showing us how Stephen is able to forgive his killers even as they are ending his life is one such story. I’d like to tell you another story, one I read about in the New York Times that took place just a few years ago in Florida. It’s a hard story, one that begins in tragedy but that is also grounded in hope.
Andy and Kate Grosmaire received the most horrific news that any parent could hear: their daughter Ann had been shot by her boyfriend and was not expected to live. The boyfriend, Conor McBride, had turned himself in. There was no doubt that he did it, and that it was not an accident, but an awful, rash, irreversible decision on his part. Sadly, such devastating tragedies happen far too often in our country, so much so that they almost feel commonplace. But what Andy and Kate did after the shooting is not commonplace at all: they forgave their daughter’s killer.
The story of their journey to forgiveness and healing is too long and complex to relate in detail here, but even just a brief sketch of it can show us how perfectly ordinary people can in fact be Christ in the world. Andy, the anguished father, first experienced a turn toward forgiveness at his daughter’s deathbed. Ann had wounds on her head and hands that reminded him of Christ, and he felt sure that she was asking him to forgive Conor for what he had done. When Kate and Andy decided it was time to take their daughter off life support, Ann did something first: she went to the jail where her daughter’s murderer was being held, met with him, and told him that they both loved him and they forgave him. They have maintained a relationship with him during his time in prison and are also close to his parents. Andy describes that moment when he decided to forgive Conor as an experience of incredible closeness to his daughter and to Christ, and he says that it was, to use his exact words, “just a wave of joy.”
The power of forgiveness is one of the greatest and most remarkable gifts that we can receive from God—it changes those who receive it, and it changes everyone who witnesses it in action. Most of us, God willing, will never have to face a situation as extreme as that faced by Andy and Kate Grosmaire when they lost their child. But we all live in a world that needs healing and grace. We all live among people who desperately want to see Jesus, to see the Father, to see the divine presence that abides at the heart of all creation.
Sometimes it is hard to believe it, and it can be even harder to say it, but we are fully equipped, every single one of us, to be that presence in the world. In fact, as followers of Jesus we have no greater call or vocation than to show the face of Christ to all we meet.
Philip told Jesus that if only he saw God he would be satisfied. I wonder—what do we need to be satisfied? Because it is possible to see God, every day, if that is what we really desire. To be able to see Jesus, to be able to see the Father, to be able to see the divine life that is all around us and within us, we must be willing to look in new ways, to see with the eyes of our hearts, with eyes washed clean with tears and with hearts that yearn for reconciliation. The Franciscan brother Richard Rohr has said, “If your only goal is to love, then failure is impossible.” If our goal is to love, through works of justice and acts of mercy, to love through word of kindness and by gathering everyone together at the table, then indeed, we will see and be satisfied.