But when all goes well with you remember me and show me kindness; mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison . . . The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him (Genesis 40:14, 23).
Joseph wasn’t the only man in prison who had fallen from favor, ending up on the wrong side of the powerful.
In a nearby cell sat a man who had served as cupbearer to Pharaoh. Like any prisoner, the heart of this cupbearer yearned for the life that had been taken from him. To sleep again in his own bed, to wake with his wife beside him, to enjoy a meal with friends, to hear the banter of his children – these were things he had almost given up on. Now shackled and shamed, he could barely muster hope that the Pharaoh would allow him to live. Best case scenario: He would serve his sentence and then do what he could to rebuild his life.
Even in the dismal confines of a prison cells men still sleep and have dreams. So it happened on one occasion that the cupbearer shared a dream with Joseph, describing a vine with branches and scenes where saw himself placing a cup in the hand of Pharaoh (Genesis 40:9-11). Joseph, a man with a God-given ability to interpret dreams, explained what it meant. What’s more, Joseph’s interpretation of the dream became reality. The cupbearer was released from prison. He went home. He went back to work – placing the cup in the hand of the Pharaoh. No more shadowy images. This was real life, just as Joseph had said it would be.
It Slipped My Mind
Like a man discovering his life for the very first time, the cupbearer relished his work and delighted in his family. He savored smells and tastes, the feel of clean sheets and warm bathwater. And he forgot all about Joseph.
That was the only thing Joseph had asked of the cupbearer. Joseph needed an advocate on the outside, someone to intervene on his behalf. “When all goes well with you, remember me” (Genesis 40:14). A simple request. In the elation of release and the thrill of finding life again, that simple request was easily forgotten.
But People forget things. Even important things.
We forget meetings and names. We forget to make bank deposits and return phone calls. We forget where we placed things. We forget to put the trash cans out at the street and that important thing we were dying to tell just two seconds earlier.
In most instances our forgetting is not malicious. We forget without intent to forget. Our momentary amnesia is explained with soft language: “It slipped my mind.” Or we use humor: “I had a senior moment.” Whatever we call it, however we explain it, our forgetting speaks to our limited capacity to retain everything that enter our minds.
We get busy, we get rushed, we get excited, we get distracted. In all this getting we keep forgetting.
The cupbearer forgot Joseph. We are never told why. Maybe it was his excitement about being a free man again, the pressure of his high position, the ease with which promises we make give way to the goals we pursue. Reasons remain hidden to us, but not the result. He forgot Joseph. Out of sight, out of mind.
That just might be the most painful part of loneliness: the nagging sense that no one is thinking of us. The absence of human thought or notice can weigh on the soul more than the absence of human company. We can eventually grow accustomed to being by ourselves. Few of us can bear being forgotten.
Long after Joseph and the cupbearer and Pharaoh had died, another prisoner sentenced to death, suspended on a cross, would look to a fellow convict and ask, “Remember me. Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And the other convicted man, innocent yet suffering execution, promised he would. “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
Our savior remembers prisoners and promises to set captives free. Our God remembers that we are dust, finite (Psalm 103:14). He remembers his covenant promises forever (Psalm 111:5). A cupbearer forgot Joseph, but God did not. This same God in Jesus Christ remembered a crucified thief. And this same God remembers you when it seems that no one else does. Never doubt it: you are not forgotten.
Do you know what it’s like to be forgotten? God’s notice of us is often expressed through the voice of another person. Is there someone close by that you can remember today?
Remember me today, O God. Remember the prayers I prayed last week and then forgot. Remember me in my moments of weakness, intending what is good but struggling to do it. Remember me and set me free of things that bind me. Work through me today to remind someone else that you are a God who remembers and takes notice, I ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.