Mark 8:11-26 combines a few different stories which don’t really seem to fit together. But then, after a while, the reader may see that Mark puts them together for a distinct purpose. First, the Pharisees approach Jesus demanding he give them a sign that will prove his authority. Jesus resists and tells them they’ll have to wait to understand things. Then Jesus, perhaps still processing the turmoil, gets into a boat with his disciples and warns them about the “leaven of the Pharisees”. The disciples are confused and think Jesus is speaking literally about bread. Jesus invites them to a deeper consideration of the things in life which produce resistance to God’s presence. When they come ashore a blind man is brought to Jesus and asks to be healed. Jesus rubs his own saliva on the man’s eyes and he is able to see a little. Jesus repeats the procedure and then the man can see clearly.
Most of us, in our spiritual journeys, speak of taking a few steps forward and a couple of steps backward. We grow in our understanding of God’s wordless grace which sustains and inspires all things but it takes a long time, a lifetime, for things to become clear. Life is a process of unfolding clarity, more of a meandering path than a straight line of progress. Sometimes there are sudden revelations but even those are followed by periods of questioning and pondering. Gradually, ever gradually, we see things in full clarity. We even come to understand that, in this life, clarity cannot be fully known, yet we are encouraged enough by our growth to imagine a kingdom in which we will truly know God’s purpose and will.
Impatience has a distinct purpose in the spiritual journey. It causes us to yearn for more, to search and seek. When that impatience reaches a demanding level, life pushes back in a humbling way and tells us we can’t know right now all we want to know. The justice and freedom from oppression that we seek for ourselves and others is on its way, we are reassured, but it is not here yet. The things we yearn for the very most in life are really beyond our ability to bring about. The fact that we pray and ask for God’s justice and mercy reveals a holy longing. Some days we desperately seek a sign, are totally confused about the meaning of things, and yet we do gain our spiritual sight a bit at a time. Things are being revealed, too slowly for our liking perhaps, but being revealed all the same.
Impatience often leads to gratitude. The things we struggle with, when we gradually come to accept them, lead us to a deeper understanding of our own limitations and God’s unlimited grace. Then a deep sense of thankfulness erupts. Were it not for the struggle, the waiting, the times of not being able to see and know, the progress gradually made would seem more like accomplishment than the gift it really is.
Sometimes changes occur in life far too quickly for us. We wonder if the world is spinning into chaos and whether even God is losing control. Sometimes changes come far too slowly for us and we develop a hard heart toward the world that seems so cruel and the God that seems a little too powerless to qualify him for his position. Three steps forward, two steps back.
Be impatient. Yearn for the kingdom. Seek to grow and change and become more of who you are called to be. And be patient. Learn to wait. It is good for us. As we wait for God to teach us, God himself waits for us to learn. Ever gradually the kingdom is revealed. And how good the kingdom is when we get little glimpses of it! In fullness of time God sent his only Son to live among us. In the fullness of time God’s justice and mercy will come through that same and only Son, Christ Jesus our Lord.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.