I have a friend named Greg who always seems to think that he knows what the next great thing is going to be. His confidence in his own ability to sniff out the next great restaurant or movie or website would have been extremely annoying, except that he was almost always right; Greg was almost always in the right place at the right time. This ability made Greg very useful, but what made Greg awesome was that he was willing to tell you about the things that he had found. Greg brought you to the restaurant or sent you the link or whatever. The fact is, we don’t often find awesome stuff on our own; someone else usually tells us that Beanwood has great empanadas or that War Horse was a great book or that there’s a two-for-one sale on Elevation burgers. Our dependence on others for this kind of information is evident even in our gadgets; I have no less than 11 apps on my phone that can tell me all manner of things about the stuff around me.
Now, I can barely use these apps, but Greg is still around. In a way, Greg is my cultural version of St. Philip. Philip was from Bethsaida, the same little fishing village where Peter and Andrew lived, and it seems that Nathaniel was living around Bethsaida as well. Peter and Andrew were fishermen, which was the usual occupation for that town, but we don’t know exactly what Philip or Nathaniel did for a living. Philip was probably a fisherman as well, or worked in the trades that served the fishing concern. Lord only knows what Nathaniel did, as it seems he had plenty of time to sit around under fig trees. Interestingly, Nathaniel might have been the only disciple among the original 12 to have come from royal blood; His name means “Son of Tolmai or Talmai (2 Sam. 3:3). Talmai was king of Geshur whose daughter, Maacah, was the wife of David, mother of Absalom”1 (Absalom, o Absalom).
Whatever it is that all these guys did, they did seem to either know each other or have some passing relationship. They all had contact with John the Baptist, and they all were messianic, on the lookout for the Messiah. And they were all evangelical, in that they all cared enough about each other that when they found something they were looking for, they actually bothered to tell each other about it.
We might take it for granted that when someone lays eyes on the Son of the living God, that person might take the time to tell other people about it. But it’s not always that easy, is it? My friend, Father Steve Pankey, said that people like to joke about Episcopalians being bad at evangelism, but that he doesn’t find that joke funny. Neither do I, nor do I think that it’s rooted in fact; Episcopalians are good at evangelism, at least in some regards. Episcopalians, just like everyone else, are great at talking about a restaurant that we love or movie that we think everyone should see. We’re very good at talking about gin and lace and the fact that all church music written after 1940 is terrible, which most of it is. I could talk to a feral cat for 45 minutes about football. That’s evangelism, believe it or not; telling people about something you are passionate about is evangelism.
Philip seemed like a passionate guy, someone who got excited about stuff and had to let everyone know about it. Maybe it would be easier, then, for us to talk about the Messiah that we have found if we had seen Him face to face, if we were introduced to Jesus by one of the Disciples, but I don’t think so. “I am not at all convinced that seeing the disciples would make the gospel easier to believe. In fact, seeing the disciples in person might just make it more difficult! The disciples were not, after all, from among society’s upper echelons. They were not highly educated, well-dressed, or outwardly impressive. The odds are that if you could have met up with Jesus’ band of followers, the first thing that would have struck you would have been their commonness….We need to forget the illustrations from those well-meaning children’s Bibles some of us grew up with. In those pictures the disciples tended to be pretty handsome with well-groomed beards, sporting robes worthy of the crown prince of Saudi Arabia… The fashions may have changed over time, but in an era when tunics and robes were what people wore, we often visualize the disciples wearing the ancient equivalent of Armani designer suits”2 But no. These were normal guys. They probably cleaned up real well for synagogue or for a wedding, but with the possible exception of Matthew, who had the cash from his tax business, they probably didn’t subscribe to GQ Palestine.
They were, more or less, just like us. Just like us, just like us, they had the experience of being in the presence of the living God; they were normal, everyday people who just so happened to have a personal (but not private) relationship with Jesus Christ. But they got to do that only because – only because – some other ordinary, everyday person that they knew went and got them and said “We have found Him! We have found light, we have found life, we have found Jesus.” They all found someone they couldn’t live without, so they told everyone they knew to come meet Him, to “Come and see.”
1Agards Bible Timeline.
2Scott Hoezee, This Week.