August 04, 2017

Patience of a Saint

Ever hear the phrase, ‘you must have the patience of a saint’?  I often hear it when I knit in public.  Now I confess, I like knitting in public.  One never knows when I might get to teach a child how to knit or crochet, or encourage a mom or dad to learn something new.  Yesterday, I had a great chat with some people who wanted to learn, some who used to knit, or who stated out loud that they were too stupid to learn.  Or even saying, “it must take so much patience in order to knit.”

There are times when knitting takes patience.  When dealing with a new pattern or learning a new technique, when using super fine or super slippery yarn, when on the last few rows of a big prayer shawl that is almost done, but the worst is when there is a knot.  There are the simple knots, but then there are the big huge tangled knots that look like they’ve been in the bottom of a drawer too long and gotten stubbornly convoluted out of sheer stubbornness.  If you don’t knit or sew, just imagine a pile of coathangers that have been in a box and travelled from one province to another.  Or fishing line that has come unwound.  Or remember cassette tapes when they got eaten by the tape player and you had to fish them out and you wondered if this was the last straw for that Oakridge Boys or Boney M tape?  That last one really dates us, doesn’t it?

We want things neat and tidy, we want to have a tangle-free life.  But all too often, we get knotted up and feel like we don’t know why the rest of the world is so messy.  Or we get tangled up in a pile of mistakes or even lies that leave us in an emotional mess.

That’s what happened to Jacob.  He was a dreadful con artist, the worst kind.  Last week we heard the story of how he cheated his older brother out of his brother’s potential inheritance.  Jacob didn’t stop at that. 

He stooped so low that he conned and cheated his own father as the poor man lay dying.  Now I don’t know about you, but that’s pretty disgusting.  It’s one thing to phone up total strangers like what’s been happening frequently at my house and being told that I’m going to go to jail for not paying Canada Revenue Agency enough taxes.  Or pretending to be a boyfriend who always needs money but never has any to help me out, or any of the numerous other scams that are out there.  But cheating your dad on the last day you will ever see him alive, that’s pretty low.  That’s nasty and mean and downright despicable. 

And so he runs for his life to get away from his brother who is more than a little steamed at him.  And when we least expect it, and certainly when Jacob least expects it, Jacob has a dream of God’s ladder and hears a promise for the future not just for him, but for his children and his children’s children.  Why Jacob?  Why not his father Isaac or his older brother Esau?  There’s no explaining God’s choice.

I think it’s a perfect counterpoint to the wheat and the weeds parable that Jesus told.  For those of us who grew up on the King James bible, this was the wheat and the tares.  And ‘tares’ is an old name for the bearded darnel that looks very much like wheat.  It’s a nasty weed.  Its roots will surround the roots of real wheat, stealing their moisture and nutrients.  Its seeds even look like wheat too, but can cause hallucinations and even death.  It’s one poisonous plant.

So Jesus told a story of why there are evil, nasty and cheating people like Jacob in the world.  But then he throws a caution into the story.  While the servants see the weeds and want to pull them to prevent them from ruining thecrop, the landowner, in this case God, says to be patient and wait until everything is ready to harvest.  That’s when the sorting will take place.

Not by the servants, but by the harvest experts, the angels going up and down the ladder who see humans from above, from a bigger perspective than we do.

It’s very tempting and human to decide which people are the weeds and which aren’t, to sort people into the bad guys and the good guys.  There’s something very primeval and satisfactory in doing so.  All we have to do is look at the debate around Omar Kadr, or the fear-mongering about Syrian refugees.  People wave the ‘terrorist’ label around and they feel good that they aren’t the bad guys, not like those blankety blank people who are different.  And yet, God doesn’t work that way.

God doesn’t jump to conclusions.  God has patience, the patience even stronger than that of a saint.  God can see the goodness in a con man who cheats his dying father, who lies to his brother and sides with his mother who seems determined to treat her own husband with terrible disrespect, and doesn’t care how hurtful or destructive this will be to the whole family.

God picks this man to inherit Abraham’s promise?  Not the eldest who has been cheated and stolen from?  God has patience, and sees from up high what we can’t see.  God sees the potential in human hearts that we can’t see ourselves.  God is ready to work miracles that we can’t imagine, and God is willing to be patient enough to unravel our twisted, complex knotty lives until we see how God has been with us even when we thought we were all alone in our tangled mess.  Thanks be to God for that wonderful love and grace that has such patience!

No comments: