Today’s Gospel reading at Mass is a little amusing, though with a serious point. Jesus is speaking to the disciples, who forgot to bring bread along on the trip, about guarding against the leaven of the Pharisees, and the disciples don’t understand what he means (Mk. 8:14-21). They think he literally means the bread, and miss the metaphor. Poor Jesus gets frustrated and asks them, “Do you not yet understand?”
The passage amuses me a little, because they just don’t get that Jesus is using a metaphor. They are too literalistic, rather like the brawny character in the recent film, Guardians of the Galaxy, who becomes the object of constant jokes because every metaphor goes over his head. Still, I can see why the disciples think what Jesus says is about the bread that they have forgotten. As a mother, I can think of numerous instances where my kids forgot something (“Mom, I forgot my gym clothes at home, can you bring them?” or “Mom, I forgot my lunch for school, can you bring it?”) Most often, my response is to remind them not to forget it next time (and then to bring it if I am reasonably able to do so). Maybe the disciples think that they are being chided or reminded next time not to forget the bread! Who can blame them?
Of course, it’s a metaphor, and Jesus explains the metaphor: by way of explanation he says, have you already forgotten the multiplication of loaves? Have you forgotten God’s generosity and ability to provide?
I love that this reading falls on Mardi Gras, before the fasting and penance of Lent. Although Mardi Gras is not an official church holiday, we can’t have Mardi Gras without Lent, and it is a last reminder to recall God’s abundance. Perhaps Lent is also about our forgetting God and forgetting God’s abundant generosity. When we are too focused on ourselves and what we don’t have, instead of what God does provide, we can fall into sin. When we don’t share God’s generosity to us with others, because we are anxious or envious or coveting, or think others don’t deserve it, we are a sinful people. When we denigrate other social groups and think that those who are homeless, or immigrants, or poor somehow deserve it because of their own lack, rather than recollecting that we are where we are in our homes or communities or wealth because of others’ generosity, we are a sinful people. It makes sense to me that as we go into Lent, we take inventory not only of personal and social sin, but also of where we tend continually to forget God’s generosity.
Much of the writing of the Hebrew prophets also focuses on not forgetting God. Hosea, Amos, Isaiah reminded the Jewish people not to forget that it was God who led them to freedom and to abundance, and that they fell into sin when they forgot the true origin of all good gifts. Christians, too, can forget all that God has given to us, and instead of responding to others around us with the love that we have known first from God, we can too easily become hard hearted or merely indifferent.
Where do we “not yet understand”?
How can Lent be a chance to remember and to acknowledge who and what we have forgotten?