How’s Your Patience?
I grew up in the Episcopal Church, so I also grew up with the Book of Common Prayer (the worship book for Episcopalians). In it is a prayer written by Thomas Cranmer for use on Palm Sunday – the Sunday before Easter. The prayer reads in part: “Grant that we may follow the example of Jesus’ patience.” What does Cranmer mean by patience? Patience is love for the long haul; it is bearing up under difficult circumstances; it is not giving up or giving in to bitterness. Patience means working when gratification is delayed. It means taking what life offers – even if it means suffering – without lashing out. And when you are in a situation that you are troubled over or when there’s a delay or pressure on you or something’s not going your way, there is always a temptation to come to the end of your patience. You may well have lost your patience before you were even aware of it.
The timing of Cranmer’s prayer is significant because it’s prayed the week before Easter, the time when we remember Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross. Jesus displayed patience not just in the way he faced his execution & his enemies. He also displayed remarkable patience with his disciples & with the people he met throughout his life.
Mark records the meeting of Jesus with a religious leader, a ruler in the synagogue, named Jairus. He was a man of great devotion to God, morally respectable, & a figure of wealth & social prominence. Mark writes: < read 5:21-22 >
Here is a man of authority & social standing, yet he falls at the feet of a Galilean carpenter. That seems odd, doesn’t it? He must be desperate. So what’s the problem? Mark tells us: < 5:22b-24a >
His little girl is as good as dead. That’s the language Mark uses: She is going to die unless Jesus comes. So you can imagine Jairus’ excitement when he realizes there is hope for his dying daughter, yet his insides must be churning with fear that he & Jesus will be too late. So Jesus, Jairus, & the disciples hurry toward Jairus’ home, & they are followed by a crowd of people eager to see another miracle: < 5:24b-26 >
It is interesting that the text says that she had suffered a lot under the care of many doctors… without getting any better. In fact, she had gotten worse. In other words, she had not simply been suffering from her disease, but also from the cures. She had exhausted all her finances, & all the medical options: < 5:27-30a >
The crowd is pressing in on Jesus, this woman touches him & is healed, & we read that Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. This is the first time the Greek word dunamis, or “power,” from which we get the word dynamite, is used in Mark. Jesus has a sensation of weakness, of draining, & he knows that there has been a healing. He has lost power so she could gain it. He stops the entourage, the emergency procession, & he turns around & says, “I need to find out who touched me”: < 5:30b-33 >
When Jesus finds the person who was healed by tapping into his power, he stops & has her tell the whole truth, the whole story of what happened.
Now imagine Jairus’ anxiety during all of this, the disciples’ irritation, & yet Jesus’ patience & composure. This woman with a chronic condition is getting attention instead of the little girl who has an acute condition. Jesus chooses to stop & talk with the woman who has just been healed. This makes no sense. It is irrational. In fact it is worse than that: it is malpractice! If these 2 were in the same emergency room, any doctor who treated the woman first & let the little girl die would be sued! And Jesus is behaving like just such a reckless doctor. Jairus & the disciples must have been thinking, “What are you doing? Don’t you understand the situation? Hurry, or it will be too late. The little girl needs help from you now, Jesus. Hurry up, Jesus!”
But Jesus will not be hurried. As he’s standing there & talking with the woman, the thing that Jairus feared most happens: < 5:35 >
Imagine how Jairus feels about Jesus at that moment. But Jesus calmly looks at him: < 5:36 >
Jesus says to Jairus, “Trust me. Be patient. There is no need to worry.” Every culture has a different sense of time. This becomes evident in cross-cultural encounters & events. < Salisbury wedding > Timing is relative. Everybody has a sense of “this is the right time, but this time is not.”
God’s sense of time will confound ours, no matter what culture we are from. His grace rarely operates according to our schedule. When Jesus looks at Jairus & says, “Trust me, be patient,” in effect he is looking at all of us & saying, “Remember how when I calmed the storm I showed you that my grace & love are compatible with going through storms, though you may not think so? Well, now I’m telling you that my grace & love are compatible with what seem to you to be unconscionable delays.” He is not saying, “I will not be hurried even though I love you.” Jesus is saying, “I will not be hurried because I love you. I know what I’m doing. And if you try to impose your understanding of timing on me, you will struggle to feel loved by me.” Jesus will not be hurried, & as a result, we often feel exactly like Jairus, impatient because Jesus is delaying irrationally, unconscionably, & inordinately.
But precisely because of the delay both Jairus & the unnamed woman get far more than they asked for. Be aware that when you go to Jesus for help, you will both give to & get from him far more than you bargained for. Be patient, because the deal often doesn’t work out the way you expected. Take Jairus. He came to Jesus to cure his dying daughter, but he got far more than that. Hear now the climax of the story. The plot has thickened again: even though the little girl is dead, Jesus looks at the father & says, “I’m coming anyway.” They proceed: < 5:37-40a >
When they eventually arrive at Jairus’ home, everyone is in mourning for the dead girl. So of course they laugh when Jesus says she is asleep. They know a dead child when they see one. The story continues: < 5:40b-42 >
Of course they were shocked! Jairus came to Jesus for a fever cure, not for a resurrection! When you go to Jesus for help, you get from him far more than you had in mind.
But when you go to Jesus for help, you also end up giving to him far more than you expected to give. Jairus came thinking he would have to trust Jesus just enough to get home, hoping that somehow the child wouldn’t die before he arrived. But Jesus demanded are more from him: After Jairus’ daughter had died, because of the apparent malpractice of the Great Physician, Jesus looked right into his eyes & said: Trust me. Now, that was a test of faith far beyond anything Jairus had anticipated.
Or take the sick woman. She came to Jesus for healing. But she wanted to just touch him & run. She wanted to say, “I’m better, & now I’m out of here!” But Jesus wouldn’t have it. Jesus forced her to go public. Keep in mind that this was very threatening for her. She had been coping with a blood flow, which made her ceremonially unclean. Because of this, to touch a rabbi in public would break the Law of Moses. And therefore Jesus’ request that she identify herself was a very frightening thing.
Why did Jesus insist that she go public? Because she needed it. You see, she had a somewhat superstitious understanding of Jesus’ power. She thought it was the touch that could heal her. She thought his power was manageable. And Jesus made her identify herself so he could say, “Oh no, it was faith that healed you.” Listen to the climax of her story: < 5:33-34 >
Jesus is saying to her, “Your faith is what healed you & now that you know that, you are in a life-transforming relationship with me.” See, there is all the difference in the world between being a superstitious person who gets a bodily healing, & a life-transformed follower of Jesus for all eternity.
If you go to Jesus, he may ask of you far more than you originally planned to give, but he can give to you infinitely more than you dared to ask or think.
As far as Jairus & the disciples are concerned, it is malpractice for Jesus to let a little girl die while he deals with a woman with a chronic condition. But we who have read to the end of the story know something that they did not. We know that for Jesus to raise a girl from the dead or to cure a fever was no different – that he has the power over death. We also know that Jesus had an opportunity to take a superstitious woman who has received a bodily healing & turn her into a life-transformed follower. Jairus & the disciples couldn’t see that either. They had no idea.
It seemed to Jairus & the disciples that Jesus was delaying for no good reason, but they did not have all the facts. And so often, if God seems to be unreasonably delaying his grace & committing malpractice in our life, it’s because there is some crucial information that we don’t have yet, something essential that isn’t available to us. If I could sit down with each of you & listen to the story of your life, it would probably be that I would join you in saying, “I can’t understand why God isn’t coming through. I don’t know why he is delaying.” Believe me, I know how you feel, so I want to be sensitive in how I put this. But when I look at the delays of God in my own life, I realize that a great deal of my impatience has been rooted in arrogance. I complain to Jesus, “Okay, you are the eternal Son of God, you’ve lived for all eternity, & you created the universe. But why would you know any better than I do how my life should be going?” Jacques Ellul, in his book, The Technological Society, argues that in modern Western society we have been taught that almost everything in life is there to be manipulated for our own ends. Many people have acted in that way regardless of their time or place, but Ellul believes that our culture makes this condition even worse. We are not God, but we have such delusions of grandeur that our self-righteousness & arrogance sometimes have to be knocked out of our heart by God’s delays.
Today, is God delaying something in your life? Are you ready to give up? Are you impatient with God? There may be a crucial factor that you just don’t have access to. The answer then, as it was for Jairus, is simply to trust Jesus.