Patience is not just a waiting game.
In 1971 Pablo Neruda quoted Arthur Rimbaud when he used these words as part of his acceptance of the Nobel Prize for Literature –
“At dawn, armed with a burning patience we shall enter the splendid cities.”
Neruda’s vision of the splendid city differs radically from us who profess faith in Christ though one cannot help but be captivated by the language used to underscore this common pathway, this common quality or virtue demanded in any endeavour. Not just having patience, rather being,“…armed with a burning patience“.
As Jesus followers we live on the side of the Cross that points to and declares an empty tomb, the disarming of sin and death. This is the side where the power and grace of God’s Heavenly ‘Splendid City’ are ours and we are invited to appropriate and implement these measures in our present world, this demands being ‘armed with a burning patience’.
It may help us to reconsider patience as not being passive, but being an extremely active virtue and asset of life.
Patience is firmly anchored in a captivating hope that empowers us to keep moving, to keep loving and to remain faithful even when we are not seeing runs being scored on the board. Patience is the essential quality that allows us to be the Church, (those who are ‘called out’ to look upon and consider the polis). Patience looks at the complexities, confusion and challenges of the regions we are called to, to hear its hearts cry, to observe its ebbs and flows and still believe that the Gospel works and is making a difference.
A burning patience empowers. It enables us to see and act for the ‘one’ among the masses and also empowers us to strive beyond the opposition that often comes from doing what is right and just.
John 5 recounts a story where this virtue is outworked. In this story Jesus leads his disciples to the pool of Bethesda. Now, ‘Bethesda’ is an interesting play on words, it literally means, ‘House of Mercy’ or ‘House of Grace’, yet because of the people and issues associated with it this place took on an alternate meaning. The words ‘mercy’ and ‘grace’ were replaces with the words, ‘shame’ and ‘disgrace’. Scripture tells us why –
John 5:3 (NLT)
Crowds of sick people—blind, lame, or paralyzed—lay on the porches.
Jesus leads His disciples to a place of misery. Imagine a place of mess, smell and addictions. Imagine a crowd of people who by their mere existence shocked middle class sensibilities, well this is where Jesus took his disciples. Among this miserable collection of ailments and disease Jesus sees to a man who had been sick for 38 years, that is –
- 38 years of being largely ignored.
- 38 years of being seen as and treated as less than human.
- 38 years of having ‘Imago-dei’ smeared, smudged and erased from his life.
Jesus demonstrates this virtue of ‘burning patience’ in a couple of ways –
- Out of the multitude He sees and heals only one (John 5:5).
- Jesus bypasses this mans poor understanding/theology of God to heal him – the man thought that in order to be healed God had a ‘first in, first served’ policy (John 5:7).
Possibly the most uncomfortable point of this story is seen in how inappropriate this man’s response was to receiving his healing. We’re familiar with Jesus healing people and there has been worship, praise to God and gratitude – that seems appropriate. In this story the tone is very different, instead of thanks this man betrays Jesus by running to the Jewish rulers to call Jesus out (John 5:15).
Jesus Kingdom act of healing this man results in an inappropriate response by this man which in turn results in this –
John 5:16-18 (NLT)
So the Jewish leaders began harassing Jesus for breaking the Sabbath rules. But Jesus replied, “My Father is always working, and so am I.” So the Jewish leaders tried all the harder to find a way to kill him. For he not only broke the Sabbath, he called God his Father, thereby making himself equal with God.
Talk about doing the right thing, a just thing, restoring dignity and worth on a man who had been dehumanised for 38 years and instead of a ‘thank you’, the man betrays you and now your life is on the line. This is where being ‘armed with a burning patience’, really kicks in. Jesus keeps moving towards the cross, undeterred and absolutely resolute is His missional posture and journey.
Scripture lets us know that Kingdom endeavours can result in negative consequences. Bad things can happen when we do the right things but being armed with a burning patience keeps us moving forward, believing for the best, loving and remaining faithful.
A burning patience is necessary if we are to continue in our vocation as the resolute prophetic Church of Jesus that seeks to be a liberating agent of the Spirit of God in our world, a true sign of God’s Kingdom as God’s reign breaks in and among us.
Patience is not just a waiting game…it is an armament in life and being armed with burning patience will enable us to see with our own eyes this most beautiful, splendid Heavenly City that our faith promises us.