Hasn't this happened to Philip before?
Did you know…
. . .that this is not the first time Philip has heard Jesus talk about "greater things" coming in the future? This week's story starts with an interaction between Philip and Jesus about seeing God, being known, and doing great things in the world. Interestingly, this is also how the Gospel of John starts. All the way back at the beginning of Jesus' ministry, in John chapter 1, we hear the story of Philip and Nathanael and how they were called to follow Jesus:
Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.”
In this week's story, three years and 13 chapters later, Jesus and Philip have this similar sounding interaction:
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? . . . Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, but if you do not, then believe 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.
In drawing this parallel between these two interaction involving Philip, the author of John's gospel is pointing us to a central message of Jesus' farewell to his disciples, his ascension, and the events of Pentecost. In this call back we see the arc of Philip's story as a follower of Jesus. In the first encounter with Jesus the interaction is about Philip's friend Nathaniel being known and seeing greater things, both of which are very passive. And for the most part this is true of how the disciples followed Jesus during his three years of ministry. Watching, listening, following. But in the second interaction it is about knowing and doing.
In this moment, when Jesus is preparing the disciples for how things will be when he is no longer with them, he is inviting them to transition from a passive way of following to something much more active, and the arc of Philip's story embodies that invitation. Jesus invites the disciples to not just witness to the work he has done, but to do the work themselves, with the empowering force of the Holy Spirit making that work possible.