Sunday reflection by Reverend Thomas Macdonald, Vice Rector of Saint John's Seminary - July 25, 2021
Most of the exams we take in school or for our professions aim at determining how well we remember. Think of all the dates and names you had to remember for your high school history exams or the long formulas you had to master to pass chemistry. As a teacher here at the seminary, I am always eager to see if the material I’ve taught my students over the semester has actually sunk in, and there’s no better way to see if this has happened than by giving them an exam – much to their chagrin! Yes, some of the exams we take are practical or skill-based, but even these rest on the capacity to remember what to do next and how to do it. Even athletic and musical tests depend on the subconscious muscle memory we build up over hours of practice and drill.
Memory matters. Without it the past cannot enrich the present or the future. Without it we are doomed to make the same mistakes over and over again.
As the hungry crowds gather around Jesus on the mountain in today’s gospel, He gives His Apostles a little test. “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” He asks. The test doesn’t go all that well for them.
In this question, Christ is not testing the Apostles on their capacity to manage supply-chain logistics. Instead, He is examining how well they have remembered all the wonders He has worked and, more fundamentally, His unfailing care for the people who come to Him. Seeing the seemingly unmanageable crowds, the Apostles abjectly forget these truths that they have so recently and consistently beheld in the One standing before them. They fail to remember. The result is a despairing withdrawal from even attempting to maintain the crowds around the Lord. His past wonders awed them in the moment, but quickly slid over the surface of their minds and hearts. The miracles and the love behind them had not yet sunk in.
As the most patient of teachers, Christ calmly responds by once more taking up the lesson. He performs yet another sign for the people who have followed Him to the mountain. Like their ancestors who followed Moses out of Egypt’s bondage under the saving signs of the Exodus, the crowds have followed Jesus seeking a new and deeper liberation by the great wonders He works for the sick. Like their ancestors murmuring in the desert between Egypt and the Promised Land, the crowds will soon forget the many signs of Jesus’ all-powerful love for them when He stands before Pilate at His trial and condemnation. We fall to the same forgetfulness when we become overwhelmed by the trials in our lives. We see only the insurmountable problems and forget all the mountains the Lord has laid low for us in our past.
Christ does not resent us for our forgetfulness. He patiently and mercifully repeats the lesson. He tests us, yes, but only to help us remember. His miracles of the past are not spent. They stand as a pledge of future help, if only we would remember them.