The Talmud is an ancient collection of Jewish commentary on the Scriptures. It contains a variety of writings. Among these are some stories that help illustrate a lesson from the sacred texts. One such story follows.
Abraham had invited the elderly man to his tent to offer hospitality. The older man accepted. When Abraham invited the man to offer a prayer of thanksgiving to the one God, the man refused. Abraham soon learned that he was a fire-worshiper at which point he drove him from his tent. That night, the Lord appeared in a dream and said to Abraham: “I have been patient with that man for 70 years, could you not have been for one night?”
The story highlights patience as a virtue. It is a highly valued virtue (as well as one that sometimes seems elusive). One person humorously described virtue as something we admire in the driver behind us, but not in the one ahead.
In the Gospel passage for Sunday’s liturgy Jesus teaches us about the Kingdom of God. Using the “mustard seed” and “yeast in the dough,” he describes the growth of the Kingdom as magnificent and incredible. The smallest of seeds becomes the largest of bushes. A small amount of yeast has the ability to leaven three cups of dough. The “mustard seed” and the “yeast” are images of the Kingdom.
At first it might look small or inconsequential but in the end it will be great and transform whatever is in it into something better.
One thing to notice about these images is something unsaid but necessary – that is, time. A mustard seed is not planted then all of a sudden it emerges as a great bush; it takes many years. Yeast leavens dough much quicker but it still takes time – several hours at best.
So one of the points that Jesus is teaching us is patience. We have to be patient, allowing the Kingdom to take hold in our hearts and in the communion we share.
The other image that Jesus uses also contains a teaching, among other things, about patience. He uses the parable of the “wheat and the weeds” to describe the Kingdom of God as it grows in this world.
When the workers go out into the field as the crop grows, they notice weeds growing among the wheat. Going to the master they say: “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where have the weeds come from? Do you want us to go and pull them up?” The master says no, to wait until harvest time and then he will send the harvesters to take care of the weeds.
Jesus later describes the weeds as “children of the evil one” and the good seed as “children of the Kingdom.” Jesus is making the point that the “Kingdom of God” begins in this world, in the here and now.
One of the realities that disciples face is that good and evil exist in the world. The presence of evil does not mean that God does not act or is not acting in the world but that even in the midst of “evil” or “bad things” or “sinfulness,” God can still act, his Kingdom still grows and he is ever present, and patient. In this sense, he calls us to be patient as well and not to lose hope or heart.
Perhaps one way of looking at this is to recognize that God has been patient, and still is, with us. If he is patient with us, shouldn’t we be patient with ourselves and others? The first reading from the Book of Wisdom speaks of God’s patience in terms of mercy and pity. The author writes: “But though you are the master of might, you judge with clemency, and with much lenience you govern us; for power, whenever you will, attends you. And you taught your people, by these deeds, that those who are just must be kind; and you gave your children good ground for hope that you would permit repentance for their sins.”
God is patient and his patience is solid ground for hope. The language of the last sentence here is powerful. God “permits” us to repent from our sins. He affords us that opportunity so that we might experience his mercy and grow. Since God does that for us, we are called to offer that same opportunity to others.
Every human being has a desire for life. We want the fullness of life that God authored and offers. This is the “kingdom” which Jesus preaches and establishes.
Paul’s description of “groanings” of the Spirit harkens to the unspoken desire of the soul to be one with God in life. The psalmist puts words on theses “groanings,” saying: “Hearken, O Lord, to my prayer and attend to the sound of my pleading … You, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in kindness and fidelity. Turn toward me, and have pity on me; give your strength to your servant.”
Patience is the virtue that allows these longings to be satisfied, and satisfied beyond what is possible to comprehend.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.