Today is the feast of Saint Philip and Saint James, apostles with ambiguous storylines and confusingly common names. We celebrate them on a combined feast day because, even though they died at different times and in different locations, their bodies were moved and are buried together in the Church of the Twelve Apostles in Rome.
Philip appears in several important moments of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus calls Philip to follow him shortly after calling Andrew and Peter, and Philip responds by telling his friend Nathanael. Philip convinces Nathanael to ‘come and see’ Jesus even though the skeptical Nathanael isn’t sure anything good can come out of Nazareth.
In the Gospel of John’s account of feeding the crowd of 5,000, Jesus asks Philip, ‘how are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?’ And Philip’s practical response about a monetary value sets the table for the feeding of the multitude with the bread and fish. A few chapters later, Philip converses with ‘some Greeks’ who want to see Jesus and then at the last supper Philip asks to see the Father in order to be satisfied.
Philip the Apostle is easy to confuse with Philip the Evangelist, who is one of the seven appointed as deacons in Acts 6, and who teaches the Ethiopian eunuch about Jesus a few chapters later. One of the fun challenges of the New Testament is figuring out who shares the same name with other followers of Jesus, or a game I like to call, “now which Mary is this?”
Today is not only about Saint Philip though, we must also remember Saint James, often called James the Less. This moniker helps distinguish him from James the brother of John, who together are known as the sons of Zebedee, and from James ‘the brother of our Lord.’ Little is known about the James whom we celebrate today. He is called the son of Alphaeus, and he might have been with his mother (another Mary!) and the other women watching the crucifixion from a distance.
The character, identity, and intrigue of these two apostles are rooted in their relationship to Jesus. They are counted among the twelve which means they are participants in all the stories about Jesus’ teaching, healing, and his resurrection appearances we read about in the gospels. And so we celebrate their journey of faith!