“Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me?” (John 14:9)
I can almost feel the tension when Jesus asks this question of Philip, one of the twelve, one of those who had walked with Him for more than three years…one of those who had been watching and listening and, at least I would have thought, learning who Jesus was. Yet, here is Philip, pressing Jesus for more, even though he just heard Jesus declare that He is the way, the truth, and the life, and that to know Him is to know and see His Father. Undeterred, and seemingly clueless, Philip says to Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us.”
Wow. Just wow. Was he not listening to all that Jesus had just said? Did he not realize that this kind of response would, at least in my ears, be heard as something of an insult…an admission that Philip either did not hear or did not believe…or both? Understandably, Jesus responds with a rather pointed question, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known me, Philip?”
Would anyone blame Jesus if, at this point, He had decided that Philip—that all the twelve—either understood or they didn’t, but He was not going to continue allowing them to question Him, to question who He was. After all, there had been ample evidence and numerous opportunities to get this right, but these disciples who were supposed to be closest to Jesus still seemed very far away from Him.
But Jesus doesn’t stop there. He doesn’t allow Philip’s lack of knowledge or belief or whatever it was to keep Him from making Himself known…from helping Philip and the others even when they struggled to help themselves. And that’s where I find myself in this story. Though I hope to be more like Jesus, I am usually more like Philip. I am slow to understand.
I’ve noticed that some of the most important lessons I learn from God come as a result of my penchant for being…well…rather obtuse and slow to understand. Though He may have been clearly teaching me something for some time, I struggle to learn. Worse, when pressed by the pressures of life or my own inner struggles and doubts, I may appear to have learned nothing.
I sit alone in a darkened classroom of my own making, surrounded by unoccupied chairs and desks, looking to the front of the room and hearing the voice of my Teacher, but not sure what He is saying. It’s not that His message to me is unclear…only that my mind is filled with disparate voices that sound a lot like my own…or my mind is filled with only silence. Not the kind of silence that is helpful and restorative, but the awkward kind of silence that sometimes becomes the impetus to speak when quiet would be better. And then, in the wake of speaking when silence would have been better, the silence becomes even more difficult and strained.
Yet, and this is one of the reasons His grace is so amazing, even when I am slow to understand He is quick to teach me. It is almost as if He actually finds great joy in overlooking my dullness of mind and incompetence of speech. As though He is unconcerned by my limitations because He knows He has none. He loves to replace my confusion with clarity, to transform my imperception into insight, to turn a missed opportunity into a teachable moment. Though I am slow to learn, He is quick to teach, and to love, and to not give up on me. I am slow to understand, but He is not. For that, I am grateful.
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