Thursday, May 26, 2016

A Word on Holy Patience

[Jesus] put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?” He answered, “An enemy has done this.” The slaves said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” But he replied, “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.” ’
Matthew 13:24-30, NRSV

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.
Do not fret yourself over the one who prospers, the one who succeeds in evil schemes.
Refrain from anger, leave rage alone; do not fret yourself; it leads only to evil.
Psalm 37, vv. 7-9, BCP version

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The appointed morning Psalm and the Gospel lesson today in the Episcopal Daily Office Lectionary both focus on a difficult and demanding practice for disciples: holy patience. This virtue needs to be reaffirmed in our troubled and angry times, both for what it is—and what it is not.

The passage from Matthew, usually referred to as the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares (or, the Wheat among the Weeds) is a parable of judgment (God’s v. ours) and also a parable urging a special kind of patience or forbearance.

This is not a passive, uninterested, or ethereal sort of patience. It does not ignore or deny suffering and wrong. It is deeply aware of and involved in the wrong of the world (likened here to the presence of a destructive weed in the midst of a good and life-sustaining food crop). But this type of patience knows that responding to the wrong with violent or aggressive anger will—no matter how gratifying in the moment, no matter how “it gets the job done”—ultimately compound the problem, ripping up good with bad and leaving the whole field in tatters.

Such an attitude is essentially atheistic, in no way relying on a deep communion with God. It is also an open invitation to yet another round of “the ends justify the means.”

Instead, the parable counsels, we must be honest about the wrong while not multiplying it. We aren’t supposed to equate wheat with weeds or good with bad…but we are to preserve the good rather than destroy it in some sort of human-directed war of attrition with the bad.

To this picture the psalm adds the observation that anger and fretting, by themselves, do not lead to the desired outcome. They are fundamentally destructive, not constructive, ways of responding to wrong. They may be “natural,” but in this world, what is “natural” for humans is generally twisted and sickened without the constant infusion of God’s grace. Rather, we are to “be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him,” which is another way of saying (in Christian terms) we must place ourselves in deep communion with God and respond (not react) when and how the Triune Majesty calls us.

The parable and the psalm here are not urging quiescence…not at all. The evils and injustices of this world must be acknowledged, confronted, and fought against. Yet, how one does this is as important as whether one does it. The admixture of anger taints and vitiates the intended good in ways that ultimately undermine the very outcome itself. Holy patience is active, dynamic, and participatory. But it is also the fruit not of anger, but of love—and the Love of Christ as found in the whole Gospel must be its criteria, not human retribution clothed in the mantle of high-minded morals.

Ideological and passionate movements are tempted to forget or downplay this—and thus plant the seeds of the next form of injustice. The value of a godly patience allows us to move from taking the false role of the One In Charge (visiting all our unexamined and ungodly “stuff” on the Other) to the true roles of servant, steward, instrument. In that is true power, true freedom—and true satisfaction.

1 comment:

  1. This holy patience you describe is very well played out in C.S. Lewis' That Hideous Strength. The "Good Guys" don't just rush in and try to annihilate the "Bad Guys" in order to save the world, but instead wait patiently while also firmly acknowledging and resisting the evil that's around them. I must admit this practice is one of the hardest parts of the Christian life for me to understand and live out.