“Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples… When Jesus raised his eyes and saw that a large crowd was coming to him, he said to Philip, “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” He said this to test him, because he himself knew what he was going to do.” (Jn 6:3;5-6)
What parent has not asked his or her little child a question which the parent already knew the answer to? Good parents do this all the time in the raising and rearing of their children. When the parent tests the child with love, the parent allows the child some youthful independence to strengthen the child’s interest and resolve, while the child learns trust and loving dependence from the knowing, truthful parent.
Now Jesus and God the Father are one (Jn 10:30). Hence, Jesus has the traits of His goodly Father. We most often call Jesus our “brother”; but if Jesus is a brother, he is a big brother with divine fatherly instincts to instruct his younger siblings. In our quotation from Sacred Scripture taken from today’s gospel reading for this 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, we observe Jesus asking Philip a fatherly question – a question which Jesus already knows the answer to.
To what can the question of Jesus to Philip be compared? It is like a father who has taken his son into deep wilderness, and while in a forest many miles from the nearest hardware store the father asks his son, “Where can we buy a flashlight around here”? Jesus was up on a mountain and there were no fish markets around which makes His question all the more stunning or rather all the more fatherly; for the best questions a Catholic father could ever ask his child are not those that lead his child to the obvious, but to the mysterious. However, the father first needs to take the time to understand the mystery himself.
In order to further make our point, we have placed on our bulletin cover a work by the great English genre painter, Frederick Morgan, entitled, A Testing Question. Frederick was taken out of public school at the age of fourteen and homeschooled by his father who was himself an artist. A portraitist by trade, Morgan eventually took to painting endearing scenes of English youth and country life.
Here we see a young mother with son and daughter in what appears a quite comfortable sitting area. In the lower right corner of the picture there appears to be a doll and perhaps a top where the young boy, now being tested, had been playing with his younger sister (who is now more interested in her brother’s answer to the question)! The young girl looks at the boy with eager interest; perhaps she thought he knew everything. But now the mother puts to him a question that requires reflection as seen by the boy’s quizzical posture.
The mother may be examining her son in his schoolwork, but for our purpose she might just as well be questioning him on his catechism. If so, what makes this painting most pertinent is the mother’s great interest in her son’s answer, an answer which she already knows – because of her own diligent religious study.
-Steve Guillotte, Director of Pastoral Services