Sometimes you can almost hear the tone of voice Jesus uses when you read his words in the Gospel.
Something about the way his teachings are phrased, or the way he addresses someone, makes it easy to imagine how he sounded when he said it. We don’t have any idea how his voice actually sounded, of course. Tenor or baritone, what its timbre and pitch were… these are filled in by the stereo system in our minds. But the inflection, that I think we might be able to hear with our mental ears pretty accurately sometimes.
The exchange we see between Phillip and Jesus is one such time.
“Philip said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.’”
I can picture Jesus pausing to give Phillip a look before replying.
“Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me?”
Really, Phillip? Really? Have we spent all this time together, up to and including my death and resurrection, and you are still wondering when you’re going to see the Father?
I really can almost hear the exasperated tone as I read the words again. Really?
If you have children of a certain age, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve seen the movie “Moana.” My whole family loves it, and my kids have insisted on listening to the soundtrack so often that I can sing the entire score by heart, including the songs that aren’t in English.
In one particularly charming number, the title character meets Maui, a demi-god responsible for a string of miracles that made humans’ lives better. He mistakes her flustered frustration at his bravado for blushing fandom, and launches into a song all about his grand accomplishments. As he begins, he sings “yes, it’s really me. It’s Maui, breathe it in.”
I can’t help imagining a similar reaction to Phillip’s query when he asks when they’re going to see the Father.
“Right here, Phillip. In front of you. This whole time. Take a good, long look.”
(If you’ve spent enough time with small children, you know how their entertainments can worm their way into your brain.)
Jesus then goes on to explain very clearly, once again, that the words he’s been speaking and the work he’s been doing have been from God, and so in seeing Jesus his followers have been seeing God, too. Phillip’s expectations of seeing the Father, a blazing encounter with the divine, were the wrong way of looking at things.
Jesus goes on to say that, if nothing else, they could look on his works to know that God was present in all that he had done. One can take that to mean the miracles he worked, which I would think must have been pretty convincing. If someone walked on water or raised dead people before my very eyes, I’d be inclined to give their claims some serious consideration.
But that interpretation doesn’t carry so well into the present. The events described in the miracles are an article of faith for those who weren’t eyewitnesses to them; it’s circular to use them as a basis for justifying the faith you’d need to believe they happened in the first place.
Thankfully, I don’t think Jesus means healing lepers or turning water into wine, or at least not those things alone. I think he means all the lives he touched. The souls he healed. The people who saw a Father who loved them, and cared about them, through the compassion of the Son who came to deliver that love to them, no matter how outcast or lowly their status.
We don’t often see miraculous works done before our very eyes these days, though I’m certainly not standing here telling you they never happen. (In matters like those, every person’s faith is their own.) But we can often see mercy, compassion, dedication to justice, and love in the works of those in our lives. And that’s when we can see God.
Today happens to be a day when we celebrate people in our lives who play an important role in them, specifically mothers. It is a blessed, joyful thing to lift up in our hearts the special place mothers have in our lives. Many of us learn our earliest lessons about love, grace, faith, and courage from our mothers. For those of you marking a happy occasion today, may your day be full of warmth and light. And for those whose day today is difficult because of the death or separation or broken relationship, may you find peace and comfort.
But of course, there’s no specific role that a person has to fill in order for God to inhabit it. There’s no place in our lives that cannot be oriented around God, so long as we choose to have God there. And there’s no person who cannot show God to another.
All of you gathered, mothers or mothered or motherless, all of you can show others through your own works what God looks like. You can do this for your families. You can do this for friends, for co-workers. For people you know personally, professionally, or hardly at all. You can bring God into the lives of your most intimate friends, or people you scarcely meet.
All it takes is a will to center God in all that you do. All it takes for people to see God in you is for your works to be full of energy for justice, mercy for those cast aside, compassion for the suffering, and love for those you come into contact with. In the off chance that you can work miracles, I’m sure that would probably help, too.
Today is a special day for many. A day to express our love and gratitude for special people in our lives. No matter the make-up of our families or the details of our daily lives, however, all of us have the power to show God to those we meet. Now, let’s go do it. Amen.