Strong Church, Close Community 4

2014–05.4

John 14:6-14

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Philip’s predicament

High hedges

John 14:9
Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time?

IN YOUR CIRCLE there are probably people you have known a long time – yet, years on, you don’t really know them at all. There will be others who are more recent acquaintances – but it feels you have known each other for ages. Why is that?

Some people live behind high hedges. When they venture out, they relate on their terms. They don’t reveal much of what goes on behind their hedge. You know they’re there, but the picture lacks perspective. Others live in the open – a permanent bring-your-own barbecue in extreme cases. That can be challenging in a different way!

When I was young, we lived among a cluster of houses. An immediate neighbour was encircled by a high hedge – I never got a clear impression of the house – and the only interchange was polite and distant and at Christmas. A bit further on was a retired man called Mr Dickinson. The front of his house was all open. He was very approachable and could talk to children with talking down to them, which was rare in those days. Central heating was a bit of a new idea then, and I remember Mr Dickinson showing me (probably with some pride) his boiler room! Closed in or approachable – it is a statement about community, and about whether we know of people, or really know them as those who we have approached more closely.

At this point, Philip had been with Jesus for three years. Philip had heard the teaching, seen the blind recover sight and the lame walk. The kingdom of God was a familiar expression to him. He and the other disciples had journeyed together with Jesus, literally and in their manner of life.

No one was behind a hedge here, but there was a restricted view. Philip still didn’t ‘get’ who Jesus was, or what He was about. But let’s be fair to him: neither did any of them, not even Peter. Peter had earlier exclaimed: “You are the Christ! (Mark 8:29). But then, almost in the same breath, he had tried to prevent Jesus, the Messiah, heading where He needed to go, into Jerusalem.

Three years of sharing life with Jesus, and yet this lack of understanding – why? Let’s not be too hard on them. We are coming from a quite different place – the Holy Spirit was given at Pentecost. Old Covenant has given way to New Covenant. We have been born again through a spiritual birth, which is akin to stepping from a dark street into a floodlit stadium.

Many of us have experienced the baptism of the Spirit – and that’s like being invited from the spectator stands on to the pitch for a kickabout.

Philip was being provoked a little, but he was limited because he was coming from what he could understand rather than the Holy Spirit’s revelation. If you think Jesus was being hard on Philip, what follows in John’s gospel is in effect Jesus’ answer to his question – three chapters’ worth of introduction to the Holy Spirit.

The challenge for us is to refuse to be limited to a merely cerebral understanding. Knowing Jesus is a heart and spirit matter. We have to let the Spirit of God through our high hedges and gates and invite him in, so that He can know us and vice versa.

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