“Come and See”
A Sermon on the 24th Sunday After Pentecost & the Apostle Philip
Today we keep the feast of the Holy Apostle Philip, one of the very first of the Twelve Apostles whom Christ the Savior preeminently called to follow Him. Evidently St. Philip felt the evangelic nature of his apostleship quite keenly, for immediately upon hearing the most sweet voice of Christ calling out to him, he straightway went and “found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote — Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph’” (John 1:45). Nathanael, of course, was somewhat skeptical and asked: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” St. Philip’s answer to such skepticism was both simple and profound: “Come and see.”
This quintessential phrase of the Gospel of John — “come and see” — is exceedingly poignant. It occurs precisely three times in St. John’s Gospel. The first time, it is Christ’s reply to the question of Andrew and John: “Where dwellest thou?” (John 1:38). It is the invitation given by Christ for us to “come and see” His incomprehensible glory, to partake of His pre-eternal light and life, to enter once again into the dwelling place of divinity, to return at long last to our true and only home. The second time, it is the apostolic voice of Philip repeating this same invitation to Nathanael — and through him, to all mankind as well. But the third and final time, it is our reply to the Lord asking where we have laid His friend Lazarus, who is rotting in death and corruption and all uncleanness: “Lord, come and see” (John 11:24). And upon hearing these words which so recently summoned us to inexpressible beauty and joy and life, now pointing instead at all the brokenness and wretchedness and misery to which mankind has come, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35).
But although He wept, nevertheless He did come, and He did see, and He Who is “the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25) fulfilled in very truth His promise to raise from the dead even those who were beyond the last reaches of human hope. So He did then, and so He has continued to do ever since, in the lives of all those who believe on His name.
And so, my brothers and sisters, it falls to us to take up ourselves the divine and apostolic call to those around us: “Come and see!” Yet what, precisely, does this call now mean? For Christ has already ascended up to where He was before, and though our own human nature now sits at the right hand of the Throne of God, yet even so the humanity which Christ took is hidden now from the eyes of mere flesh and blood. Therefore, if we wish to be faithful to the evangelic commandment of Christ, we must instead call the unbelieving world to “come and see” Christ in the secret place where He continues to abide on this earth even up until the present day: that place is the truly Christian soul.
The simple (yet bitter) truth is that much of the reason so many people around us do not know Christ is that they have never been able to meet Him in us. The modern world is perishing in wickedness in large part because we ourselves have not become martyrs, we ourselves have not become confessors, we ourselves have not become saints. St. Justin (Popovic) once wrote:
…the Lives of the Saints are nothing else but the life of the Lord Christ, repeated in every saint to a greater or lesser degree in this or that form. More precisely it is the life of the Lord Christ continued through the Saints, the life of the incarnate God the Logos, the God-man Jesus Christ who became man. This was so that as man He could give and transmit to us His divine life; so that as God by His life He could sanctify and make immortal and eternal our human life on earth. “For both he who sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one” (Heb. 2: 11).
This is what our own lives and our very being are called to become: nothing other than the life of the Lord Christ Himself. We must become ready and willing to give up everything in order to say with St. Paul: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, Who loved me, and gave Himself for me” (Gal 2:20). For truly, “as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal 3:27), and “ye are not your own… for ye are bought with a price” (1 Cor 6:19-20). This is what it means to truly preach the Gospel, and without this any other preaching is — at best — merely so many words.
My brothers and sisters, I say this knowing how infinitely far I myself still have to go. Yet I take great comfort even and especially in that third, heartbreaking “come and see” in St. John’s Gospel, knowing that even though I have laid in the grave far longer than did Lazarus, nevertheless at the sound of His voice I too will be filled with His superabundant life… if only I become willing to obey Him, as He commands me to come forth from the tomb I have allowed to become my home.
And how am I to do this? Well, for that answer I need only turn to today’s Sunday Gospel: above all, by showing mercy to each and every person I meet. Even if, like the stranger the Samaritan found half dead, they are none of my responsibility. Even if, like the Jew was with the Samaritan, they have been at enmity with me all my life. There is nothing that so powerfully and completely unites us with God as does mercy; but to be bereft of mercy is to be bereft of God. St. Isaac the Syrian teaches us in Homily 81:
What is a merciful heart? It is a heart on fire for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the birds, for the animals, for demons, and for all that exists. By the recollection of them the eyes of a merciful person pour forth tears in abundance. By the strong and vehement mercy that grips such a person’s heart, and by such great compassion, the heart is humbled and one cannot bear to hear or to see any injury or slight sorrow in any in creation. For this reason, such a person offers up tearful prayer continually even for irrational beasts, for the enemies of the truth, and for those who harm him, that they be protected and receive mercy… because of the great compassion that burns without measure in a heart that is in the likeness of God.
“A heart that is in the likeness of God.” “By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35). This is what it means to live the life of Christ. This is what it means to preach the Gospel to all creation. This is what we must become, this is what we must offer, this is what we must proclaim as we call out like St. Philip to all those around us: “Come and see!”
Come and see mercy. Come and see grace. Come and see “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6).
I stand here before the Holy Altar and promise you before God that all of this is possible. All of this is real. And all of this is open to each and every one us, no matter who we are, no matter what we have done, and no matter how long we have already lain dead in the grave. Listen to the voice of the Apostle Philip. Listen to the voice of Christ God Himself as He calls out to you in the Gospel today, and at long last become willing to leave the tomb of your old way of life and the graveclothes of your unmerciful heart behind you, and even as He resurrects the dead themselves, let us not in any wise doubt as He calls out to us to: “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37). Amen.