Patience is suffering, and while we wait for God’s healing of all things, there is suffering, but there is also hope. And in that hope we wait with patience.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 16 A
Texts: Matthew 13:24-30; Romans 8:12-25; Psalm 139:1-12, 23-24
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Saying “be patient” can be destructive.
In the mouths of those in power “be patient” is a way to maintain the status quo, to keep quiet those who are powerless or oppressed. “Be patient” has been used for centuries to thwart progress, end reformation, divert attention from what harms or oppresses or destroys.
So be careful with Paul today, who tells his Roman Christians we wait with patience for God’s healing of the whole creation. If we urge “be patient while you wait for God to bring wholeness and life to this bitterly divided and dying world,” we could actually perpetuate the evil.
But within the word “patience” itself is the clarity we need to be faithful.
In the languages of the West, patience has an important heart.
As far back as we can see, through the Greek and Latin and Germanic and Romantic languages as they evolved into the English language we share, whatever word is used for patience is created from the root word for suffering.
To be patient, our language says, is to suffer. We see this in another usage: the person suffering in the hospital is called the “patient.” You can’t understand “patience” without remembering that for thousands of years, people whose language we now speak in our own way, didn’t understand patience apart from suffering.
So when Paul says “if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience,” he means – in his own Greek and in our modern English and all the languages in between – he means we suffer as we wait. “Being patient” doesn’t mean accepting the status quo or quashing reform or blindly pretending that just waiting will fix things. “Being patient” means we will suffer while we wait, while we work, while we hope.
This shines a different light on Jesus’ parable today.
Jesus says that good seed has been planted, but an enemy has sown evil seed. And we’re going to have to live with both good and evil side by side until the harvest is sorted.
That can give hope. We’re the ones in the parable saying, “Didn’t you make a good world, plant good seed?” and are reassured by God, “yes, I made this world good, but an enemy has brought wickedness and evil into it, so don’t be surprised or dismayed. I’ll take care of this.”
But it’s discouraging, too. We understand the urgency in today’s parable, the desire to root out all the evil right now. We don’t like to suffer. Or to see others suffer. And God’s plan of letting good and evil live together without always intervening will lead to much suffering. Has led to it. Just listen to the news, or walk seven blocks south or one block north of Mount Olive.
And the whole creation knows this, Paul says, suffers this.
Paul doesn’t limit salvation to humanity, or a percentage of humanity. For Paul, God’s healing is a comprehensive healing of all things – all people, all creatures, nature itself.
So the whole creation groans for God’s healing. The parable says we’re not imagining the evil spread throughout God’s good creation. Paul says we’re not alone in seeing this, either. All people, animals, rocks, trees, stars, waters, groan. All are patiently waiting, that is, waiting with suffering.
And what sign will tell the creation God’s healing has begun?
Paul says the creation is waiting for the revealing of the children of God. Those who are revealed as filled with God’s Spirit.
Now, consider the psalmist’s prayer today: “Look well whether there be any wickedness in me, O God, and lead me in the way that is everlasting,” and look again at the parable, keeping Paul’s words in mind. Jesus might not mean simplistically that the “weeds” are evil people and the “wheat” are righteous people. The psalmist and Paul suggest that each of us has God’s good seed growing in us, alongside evil seed that the enemy planted.
It is God’s weeding out of the evil in each of our hearts that will reveal us as children of God. And as more and more are revealed, the world will begin to heal. Our country, our city, can begin to heal.
Right now. Because we don’t have to wait for the end of time for the harvest.
We know all sorts of plants bloom and flower and bear fruit at different times in the year, not just fall. Surely Jesus means that of your heart. While things are growing in you, you might not be able to distinguish good from evil, so you should be careful about what you try to root out. But whenever something bears fruit – when you see what happens when what is growing in you comes to maturity – then you’ll know.
If it’s harming anyone or anything, it’s a weed, and now that fruit is obvious, you can ask God to remove it from your heart and burn it away. If it’s blessing and grace, you can praise God for that harvest in your life.
But patiently waiting for this is, as those before us have said, suffering. Suffering as we feel the pain of \ God burning our weeds. Suffering in the world as evil remains alongside good for a time. The path of being revealed as a child of God for the healing of the world is a path that always includes suffering for and with each other and the creation.
But our God is also a patient God. A suffering God.
It cost Jesus his life to be God-with-us and to call us to be children of God, good wheat bearing seeds, in a world where evil and good thrive side-by-side. And next week Paul will tell us the Holy Spirit speaks on our behalf with “sighs too deep for words,” groaning, suffering, on behalf of God’s children and God’s creation.
But remember, this suffering patience – God’s and our own – is labor pains, not death pains, Paul says. In spite of what we see in our world, and in our own hearts, God’s suffering Goodness and Grace and Love, willing to face and break death on behalf of all things, is now bearing Life for this world.
That’s our hope in the midst of the world’s and our groaning. The Triune God is already giving birth to a new creation, and as you are revealed more and more as God’s child, you are born along with that new creation, for the healing of all.
In the name of Jesus. Amen