I’ve been pondering nicknames after reading a slice of John’s gospel where (in the Bible I most frequently use) the disciple Philip’s last black-printed words are spoken.

To immediately digress from Philip, one of the nicknames for my Bible is a red-letter edition. All of Jesus’ statements are printed in red, whereas everything else is black. In the fourth chapter of John’s gospel—a mightily red-lettered chapter, I might add—Philip’s black words sparingly interrupt the red ink beside comments from two other disciples: Thomas and Judas.

The 5th Sunday of Easter – for May 22, 2011

“Philip said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.’”

Digression complete . . . either within the Bible or from Christian tradition, what’s Philip’s nickname? Or does he have one?

What is the disciple Thomas’ nickname? Or Judas? I’ll wager ten denarius and some leftover loaves & fishes you know Doubting Thomas and Judas the betrayer.

What’s your nickname? Is it cute, clever or a name that kindles childhood memories? I have an affectionate nickname for my wife that, as far as I know, no one else uses. No, I won’t tell you what it is! I attended high school with a guy who played professional baseball and then managed the San Francisco Giants (and currently the Cincinnati Reds) named Johnnie Baker Jr. But most call him Dusty. Is Lady Gaga a nickname? How about J-Lo or A-Rod? I’ve read Barack Obama was Barry until his college years.

I’m similar and different to President Obama, at least in the realm of nicknames. Barry is boring compared to Barack, but it’s a nickname people might better remember. I’m officially a Lawrence (and I can show you my long-form birth certificate for confirmation), but have usually gone with the mundane “Larry.” If I wanted people to respect me more, or contemplated running for President, should I urge folks to call me Lawrence?

I volunteer for a local hospice, visiting to support patients and families. When a person is under hospice care, she or he is suddenly meeting nurses, social workers, aides, etc. It’s a bit overwhelming, so all staff and volunteers wear nametags. Mine proclaims “Larry.” Accurate! But I often tell patients they can remember me as “Hairy Larry.” I’m a dude with a beard and though its thinning, I also sport unkempt hair atop my noggin. The line gets a chuckle, but it’s also a nickname people more easily recall in the supportive crowd of the hospice team.

Not all of Jesus’ Biblical followers had nicknames. Indeed, I don’t think Philip did, but we’ll give him one in a moment. Then, like me with the hospice team, he’ll stand out with the disciple team. (Another digression . . . if you know of Philip’s actual Biblical nickname, tell me and I’ll have to admit my stumpedness.)

We’ve already established a betrayer and doubter on the Jesus team. There was also a Simon called Zealot. Zeal for short? Of course another Simon became Peter, or Rock. Given the little we know about Simon Peter—which is considerably more than most of the disciples—his dubbed-by-Jesus nickname must have generated as much respect as jokes. Good ole Peter, he’s not the smoothest stone in the river. HA-Ha-ha. I love the nickname for James and John, the Sons of Thunder. Did that mean one or both answered to Thunder, or was it only reserved for their father?

Philip is a Greek name translated as “fond of horses.” Thus there were several choices for nicknaming Philip. The Greek would work. Not bad, since epithets may refer to places: Attila the Hun, Jabba the Hut, Lawrence (never Larry) of Arabia, Philip the Greek. Since embarrassment can inspire a sobriquet, Philip could’ve been called Horseface or Whinny, based on looks or laughter.

In my red-letter Bible, John 14 is the last time Philip speaks. Other than being on a list of disciples, he’s barely a footnote in Matthew, Mark and Luke. But John gives him voice. In the sea of chapter fourteen’s red print, Philip made his final statement between the Doubter and the Betrayer.

“Lord,” Philip said to Jesus, “show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”

Thomas the Doubter. Judas the Betrayer. Should I dub him Philip the Satisfied? Which meant Philip would’ve had a nickname that embarrassed him and yet reflected a truth about him. I like to think Jesus cringed or sighed when Philip made his statement. I don’t envision Jesus the Christ—the One who revealed the Creator’s limitless passion and compassion, and who so frequently dared his disciples to embrace the enemy and share forgiveness as if it were as important as breathing (which it is)—being pleased with someone who wanted to be “satisfied.”

Show me the Father, Philip pleads, give me simple proof or an easy fact I can wield against those who oppose me . . . and I will be satisfied. No! In the hurly-burly world of daily, messy, generous faith, let us long to never be satisfied.

Philip the Satisfied? I have no idea if that’s a more or less appropriate appellation than Horseface. But I hope Satisfied is never a nickname someone would consider for me.

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