A few months ago, I had a brilliant idea, or so I thought. There are several children in the parish who want to become Altar Servers. Prior to the pandemic, we would have assigned those children to serve with experienced Altar Servers, but the situation has changed. There are many fewer Servers still active and there is the slight risk of infection.
I thought I had a brilliant solution to the changed situation. As we have a large collection of video devices, I thought I would make some instructional videos for the prospective Altar Servers. They would be able to watch the videos at home, compare the information in the videos with their own experience of attending Mass, and join the Altar Server ministry with a minimum of effort.
Several months later, I am still struggling to complete the instructional videos. Some of the video recordings I wanted to use were deleted mysteriously by one of the video cameras. The controls for the video editing software are so minute that I can’t see them clearly. The microphone I used for the audio portion of the recordings made my voice sound like the voice of a famous mouse who features in cartoons for children and is the intellectual property of multinational entertainment company which will happily sue me for using a trademarked name in a homily.
My brilliant idea turned out to be a test of my patience. Trying experiences like this above are common; unfortunately, some people face really serious and burdensome trials in their personal lives and relationships. It is important to be able to distinguish between a test of patience (caused by the limitations of the universe) and a test of faith. It is important to be able to do so because confusing the created world’s activities with God’s actions can have a severely detrimental effect on one’s life.
Today’s Gospel reading says that when Jesus saw a large crowd following him, he asked the disciple Philip, “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” (Jn. 6:5) The Gospel says further that Jesus asked the question to test Philip. (Jn. 6:6) There are several possible meanings of the statement that Jesus wanted to “test him.”
Was Jesus posing an impossible task for Philip to complete? If so, Jesus was forcing Philip into a situation that would lead to inevitable failure.
Was Jesus deceiving Philip about what was about to happen? If so, Jesus was putting Philip in a situation that would prove embarrassing and confusing.
Was Jesus being capricious or arrogant by demonstrating power that far exceeded Philip’s capacity to understand? If so, Jesus was discouraging Philip from trusting him.
The “test” that Jesus posed to Philip was not the sort of test that the created world routinely poses to us. This was not a test of patience, or personal strength, or cleverness, or intelligence. Jesus was testing Philip’s faith, not in the hope that Philip would fail the test but in the knowledge that Philip could grow in faith from the experience.
Philip could not have predicted that he would be put to the test on the day described in this Gospel; nor could he have imagined what sort of test he would face. Jesus proposed a seemingly impossible task and expected nothing more than Philip’s trust. At the end of the day, the crowd received more than they could eat, but Philip received even more than that. (Jn. 6:11-13)
Today, you will be tested. Like Philip, you cannot predict when you will be tested, how you will be tested, or how severely you will be tested. Jesus’ “test” of Philip’s faith provides an example to follow when one is confronted by struggles, challenges, deprivations, disappointments, or losses.
The finite nature of the created world is the cause of the many circumstances that test our patience and our endurance; these tests are not sent by God. On the contrary, in the midst of the challenges posed to us by life in a finite universe, God is the One who makes it possible for us to grow in faith.
Philip was quick to acknowledge his own limitations and the impossibility of overcoming the limitations of the world; by doing so, he allowed Jesus to exercise Divine power on behalf of the crowd and he passed the test of faith.
When we face life’s inevitable challenges and difficulties, it is crucial to be able to distinguish between the effects of the created world and the effects of Divine power; all of Jesus’ miracles are illustrations of this crucial distinction.
If you find that some people or situations are severe tests of your patience, Jesus invites you to see these as opportunities to give a credible witness to the value of faith in God.
If you carry wearisome or impossible burdens in your personal life, Jesus calls you to rely on God’s power rather than on your own strengths.
If you are confronted by a seemingly impossible problem or challenge, Jesus offers you the opportunity to be guided by the Holy Spirit rather than by your fears and concerns.
Today, you will be tested. God does not desire you to fail the test, or be embarrassed by your unpreparedness, or be shown to be inadequate. God desires you to see the tests of faith in your life as opportunities for deeper devotion to God and a more plausible witness of faith to others. Philip received new insight into Jesus’ identity and God’s plan of salvation. The same growth in faith awaits anyone who faces life’s inevitable challenges and trials with an unshakeable faith in God.