Some years ago when I lived in Manhattan, New York City, there was an ad on the TV that stated, “In New York ‘wait’ is a four letter word.” meaning a nasty word. And it is true. Everyone in that city always seems to be in a hurry. People always rush, are in a hurry, have no time, are go, go, go; impatient, and … I LOVED it.
You see I grew up taking after my Mother who had no patience. Bernice, my Mom, was always very action oriented. “Do it, do it right, do it right now” could have been her motto. So I am NOT a patient person and I come by it naturally. I hate to wait. And so for me, wait is a four-letter word.
So when I read in today’s second reading from the Letter of Saint James “Be patient, brothers and sisters,” I have a problem. “Be patient,…” NO! I don’t want to be patient.
This is the only time all year long that we get a selection from the practical and wise Letter of Saint James in the Sunday readings - and what they give us is “Be patient”! Oh come-on.
Now some of you may find patience to be a difficult virtue, if you even think of it as a virtue at all. But that is our reading. So let us take a deep breath and see what we can make of all this.
“Be patient, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord.”
We have been waiting nearly 2,000 years for the Lord to return. He is certainly in no rush, and there is no indication that He is coming anytime soon. So this requires a great deal of patience.
St. James continues: “See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You too must be patient.” Note that this is not waiting for waiting’s sake. Something is going on. Something is developing. It is not noticeable, but the seed is changing, growing, preparing for the conditions to be right to appear above the ground. This is not waiting for waiting’s sake, but rather allowing things to develop to the right point in order to appear. The farmer knows the crop is coming, but only at the right time. The same with the Lord’s coming. The time is not yet ripe. So we must be patient.
St. James tells us: “Make your hearts firm.” This waiting is not passive. It is not inactive or indolent. This patience requires firmness, strength, perseverance. “Make your hearts firm” in faith, in hope, and above all in love. The patience that St James calls us to is not just sitting around twiddling our thumbs. Rather this is a patience that is purposeful. “Make your hearts firm” by doing good deeds, by forgiving those who hurt you, but giving alms and by generous acts, by speaking the unpopular truth, by standing up for what is right, by prayer and even by penance. “Make your hearts firm.”
Too many of us Christians I am afraid have rather flabby, lazy, weak hearts. Pope Francis in his recent Apostolic Exhortation asks: “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses 2 points?" Good question. Well, we know why. It is because our hearts are in the wrong place. Our hearts are not firm, but weak and flabby. St. James calls us to make our hearts firm.
As if it is not bad enough that St James tells us to be patient, he then goes on to say: “Do not complain about one another.” What?!? Do not complain? What am I going to do all day long? I mean, one of our favorite past-times is complaining about one another. What would happen to politics in our country if we all stopped complaining about one another? The cable news networks would all go out of business. It is preposterous.
But St. James gives us a very good reason for not complaining about one another. He says so “that you may not be judged.” The more you complain about others, the more you set yourself up to be judged. You don’t need to be a lawyer to know that setting yourself up for stricter judgment is not a good policy. “Judge not lest you be judged” as Jesus told us. Don’t even complain about one another, because complaining involves judging. So don’t do it.
Well, maybe it is a good thing this is the only Sunday all year long that we hear from the Letter of St. James, because in these few short lines he gives us three difficult challenges: “be patient”, “make your hearts firm”, and “do not complain about one another.”
That could keep most of us busy for the whole year. Amen.