On The Patience of God
Today I’d like to begin by sharing a story from earlier in St Luke’s Gospel, the end of chapter nine. It tells us of the time that Jesus drew near to a town in Samaria on His way to Jerusalem. However, the Samaritans would not receive Him, because “He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem.” That meant that Jesus, as a Jew, would not be worshipping or offering any sacrifices on the sacred mountain of the Samaritans, Mount Gerizim. James and John became angry because of the way that the Samaritan treated their Master. They asked Jesus, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?” Jesus turned to them and rebuked them saying, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.” In these few verses we see the vast difference between the impatience of man and the patience of God (See Luke 9.51–56).
We see a similar thing happen in today’s Gospel. Crowds are thronging Jesus as he enters Jericho. A blind man asks what’s going on? Someone in the mob tells him “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” He begins to cry out, NOT “Jesus of Nazareth have mercy on me,” but rather, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” The people in the crowds tell him to shut up! Jesus has places to go, people to see! But the blind man cries out his confession of faith even louder: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And then what happens? Jesus stopped short! And then he stood still, telling his disciples to move like angels, and bring that poor man to Him, so that He might heal Him (Luke 18:35-43). Again we see the vast difference between the impatience of man, and the patience of God.
In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word most often translated as patience is “arek.” The word arek appears about fifteen times in the Old Testament and sometimes it says "longsuffering," sometimes "patience," or sometimes "slow to anger." It literally means "patient," as in "slow." God is slow to what? Slow to react!
In the Septuagint Old Testament and in the New Testament the same word is translated into the Greek word “μακροθυμέω,” which means "takes a long time to get hot,” or a “long time to boil." In other words, God takes forever to become angry with us. And why is that? It’s because He loves us. That’s why St Paul, in his first description of love in 1 Corinthians 13, says, “Love is patient,” “Ἡ ἀγάπη μακροθυμεῖ” (1 Cor. 13:4).
God is patient with us because He want to heal us like the blind man. God is patient with us, because He longs for our salvation. Listen to what St Paul said in this morning’s Epistle reading:
1 Timothy 1:16 “For this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all patience, as an example to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life.”
Did you hear that? God’s mercy toward the wicked persecutor Saul, was so that those seeing the example of the patience of Christ, might be encouraged for their own salvation, for their own everlasting life! And in another place the Apostle Peter says this:
2 Peter 3:15 “Bear in mind that our Lord's patience means salvation for us, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him.”
So then, God reveals His patience to us, so that we might be saved? But how? By our acquisition of the same virtue. While it’s true that it is impossible to gain patience, or slowness to anger by our own efforts, with the help of God’s grace “what is impossible for men is possible with God.”
St Isaac the Syrian says:
“When patience greatly increases in our soul, it is a sign that we have secretly received the grace of consolation. The power of patience is stronger than the joyful thoughts that descend into the heart.”
(“Ascetical Homilies” - Homily Forty-Eight)
And St Basil the Great says:
"...And so let us be glad and bear with patience everything the world throws at us, secure in the knowledge that it is then that we are most in the mind of God." ("Gateway to Paradise")
And finally, I’ll end with a beautiful word from the 3rd century father and martyr, St Cyprian of Carthage:
"...It is patience that both commends us to God, and saves us for God. It is that same patience which tempers anger, bridles the tongue, governs the mind, guards peace, rules discipline, breaks the onslaught of lust, suppresses the violence of pride, extinguishes the fire of dissension, restrains the power of the wealthy, renews the endurance of the poor...guards the blessed integrity of virgins, the difficult chastity of widows, and the indivisible love of husbands and wives. It makes men humble in prosperity, brave in adversity, meek in the face of injuries and insults. It teaches us to pardon our offenders quickly; if you yourself should offend, it teaches you to ask pardon often and with perseverance. It vanquishes temptations, sustains in persecutions, endures sufferings and martyrdoms to the end. It is this patience which strongly fortifies the foundations of our faith. It is this patience which sublimely promotes the growth of hope. It directs our action, so that we can keep on the path of Christ while we make progress, because of His forbearance. It ensures our perseverance as children of God while we imitate the patience of the Father.” (St. Cyprian of Carthage – “The Good of Patience”) Amen.