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A father was doing the grocery shopping with his young son who was sitting in the shopping cart. The child was obviously unhappy and was letting his unhappiness be known. The father said, ‘patience Albert,’ patience Albert.’ Finally, all the items on the shopping list were in the cart and the father made his way to the check out line. They were all two or three deep and so they had to wait. Still screaming and crying, the father repeated over and over again, ‘patience Albert, patience Albert.’ A woman who was in line behind the father and son, leaned forward and said, “sir, let me commend you for your patience with baby Albert.” To which the man replied, “oh thank you, but I am Albert.”
“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, and PATIENCE.”
Touching briefly on ground we have already covered, the fruit of the Spirit is singular, not plural. It’s not the ‘fruits of the Spirit’ but one, single, solitary fruit of the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit is love and all that follows are the facets of love cut by the Spirit, with His chiseling tools of Word and Sacraments. Like a precious diamond, there is a facet of love that is joy and another that is peace and another that is patience. In his famous 13th chapter to the Corinthians, St. Paul reminds us that if love is anything at all, “love is patient.”
Let’s start with the word itself. It’s an interesting word in the Greek of the New Testament. “Macrothumia.” It’s a compound word. “Macro” means ‘long.’ “Thumia” means ‘anger.’ Literally, it’s “long to get angry.’ ‘Long to reach the boiling point.’ To be ‘patient’ is to have a ‘long fuse.’
In the Scriptures, the word is used a lot of the time to describe the willingness to endure disappointment or pain or suffering without getting angry or giving up. So, most of the time, patience is attributed to God who is ‘slow to anger.’ That’s His nature. God is slow to get angry with His people and He’s patient with them even in the face of the disappointment, pain and suffering we cause Him. He doesn’t give up on us.
On the other hand, we are by nature ‘impatient.’ I’m not really sure there is such a word in Greek, but we are by nature “microthumia.” We’re ‘quick to anger,’ ‘short fused.’ We’re impatient with God.
Take Israel as an example of us all. In Exodus 32, we read about that famous episode at the base of Mt. Sinai. God called Moses to come up the mountain to receive the 10 Commandments from Him. The people were told to wait patiently until Moses came down. He was only gone for 40 days, but the people grew impatient and gave up on God and they made a golden calf and worshipped it.
As His people walked through the desert to the Promised Land, God taught them to walk by the Spirit. Like little babies, it was a constant process of falling and being lifted up again. In the 21st chapter of Numbers, Moses writes, “And the people became impatient on the way. And they spoke against God and against the Moses, ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water and we loathe this worthless food.'” (Numbers 21:4-6).
How often to we get impatient with God as we make our way to the Promised Land? Like children on a long journey, we repeated ask, “are we there yet?” And we get angry when God says, “No. Be patient.”
But we have a short fuse with God. We’re quick to anger, short-suffering. “Why is it taking so long for the enemy to be defeated and the criminals punished and the wrongs avenged and for unbelievers to come to the knowledge of the truth?” And, “where is the promise of his coming?” (2 Peter 3:4). Everything just keeps going from bad to worse. What are you waiting for God? You act too slowly.”
Who would have blamed God for destroying Israel right there in the desert because of their impatience with Him? But no, God called Moses back up the mountain and had Moses make two more stone tablets to replace the two that he broke because of his short fuse. But before Moses went back down the mountain, we read this, “The Lord passed before Moses and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, SLOW TO ANGER, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.” (Ex.34:6-7a).
Our God is ‘long-suffering.’ But it would be a mistake to think that means that He simply ignores our sin or forgets it. No, our faith and confidence is not based on the hope that God’s patience means He will not punish our sins.
The truth is, God punishes every single sin of ours just as He promises. Not one sin goes unpunished. But if He was slow with Israel, it was only because He was WAITING PATIENTLY for “the time to fully come when He would send His Son, born of a woman, born under the law to redeem those under the law” by carrying out the punishment for our sins upon Him. Every single sin was remembered upon Jesus. Every single transgression was justified by His blood.
St. Paul explains that God was not being lax or soft when He didn’t punish Israel for their sins as He promised He would. No, it was “in his divine forbearance that he had passed over former sins.” He was waiting patiently until the day when He would put forward His Son to bear their sins and be their Savior. (Rom.3:25).
The good news is that God is the same, yesterday, today and tomorrow. And the unchangeable God of heaven and earth continues to act slowly with us. Abounding in steadfast love for us, He is patient with us, waiting for us to repent and receive the forgiveness for our sins through faith in Christ and His cross.
St. Peter speaks for God saying, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9).
St. Paul points to the patience of God in a very personal way in his letter to Timothy. Paul points to his own life as a persecutor of the Church of Christ. He calls himself the ‘foremost sinner.’ And then he writes, “But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his PERFECT PATIENCE as an example to those who were to believe in Him for eternal life.” (1Timothy 1:16).
In other words Paul says, ‘look at my life and the patience that the Lord had for me until His Spirit worked true repentance and faith in me.’ If God is this patient with the foremost sinner, then there’s a reason to hope He will be patient with you and me.
St. Peter affirms St. Paul. Peter writes, “And count THE PATIENCE OF OUR LORD AS SALVATION, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given to him.” (2Peter 3:15).
And so as we walk by the Spirit, we live and move and have our being under the cross of Christ, thankful to God for His patience and expressing our thankfulness to God by being patient with one another. Patience with one another is our true worship of God.
There is a legend, and it’s really nothing more than that. A traditional Hebrew story about Abraham, whom the writer to the Hebrews says was an example of someone who waited patiently for God to fulfill the promises He made to Abraham, goes like this. One evening, Abraham was sitting outside his tent when he saw an old man, weary from a long journey coming toward him. Abraham went out to greet the man and invited him into his tent for food and drink. The old man immediately began eating and drinking without giving thanks. Abraham asked the man, ‘don’t you worship God?’ The man replied, “I worship fire only and reverence no other god.” When Abraham heard this he became incensed, grabbed the man by the shoulders and threw him out of his tent. When the man had departed, God called to Abraham and asked where the stranger was. Abraham replied, ‘I forced him out because he did not worship you.’ God answered, “I have put up with him these 80 years although he dishonors me. Could you not endure him one night?”
There is a lot of wise guidance and comfort in this legend for everyone who has loved ones or friends who are unbelievers or who have wandered from the one, true faith. How quickly do we give up on an unbeliever in whom we see no sign of faith? We quit praying for them, quit witnessing to them. In our impatience, we may even be tempted to cast them out. The disciples of Jesus wanted Him to call down fire from heaven to consume the Samaritans who rejected Him. (Luke 9:54). But Jesus rebuked His disciples.
Our patience with unbelievers is not based on a hope or expectation that is based on them. Our hope is based on the patience and love of God for them. James gives the example of a farmer. “Be patient therefore brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and late rains. You also be patient.” (James 5:7-8).
The Holy Spirit is the divine Farmer who plants His seed, which is the Word. He scatters it by His preaching and His Sacraments. And with divine patience, He waits and works in us until the coming of the Lord. Our patience with unbelievers is based upon God’s patience with unbelievers, of which we were all at one time.
But what about our patience with others who disappoint us, hurt us, cause us to suffer? Must we be patient with them also? Jesus once told the story about a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. One servant owed the King a huge debt he could never repay. The King ordered the servant be thrown in jail until he could repay it all. But the man pleaded for patience from the King. Not only did the King release the servant, but He forgave him all his debt. So what did the forgiven man do when he met another servant who owed him just enough for a cup of coffee and a donut? He demanded to be paid in full. And when the fellow servant pleaded for patience, the wicked servant had him thrown in jail until he paid up.
Which one of us is not convicted by this parable? Even though God has been so patient with us, we can be so impatient with others.
And so, as servants who have a debt to God we can never repay, we come to the railing, before His throne, and plead with Him to be patient with us. And to us, the King declares declares, ‘The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, SLOW TO ANGER, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.” And instead of locking us up as we deserve, He gives us the body and blood of His Son, setting us free from our impatience, and giving us His patience to be patient with one another.