Patience, Persistence & Perspective (Third Sunday in Lent)

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I’m only partially joking when I tell people that one of my favorite prayers is: “Lord, give me patience and give it to me RIGHT NOW!”

Generally speaking, I don’t like to wait for things.  I don’t want to stand in line, even for a few minutes.  And I even get a sense of irritation when I have to watch that little timer icon while stuff is downloading!

And frankly, in my relationship with God, I’d like not to wait either.  I’d like to know right now whatever it is that God wants me to know.  I’d like to understand right now whatever it is that I’m supposed to learn from a particular experience.  And I’d like to see clearly the significance of whatever it is that God is trying to show me, instead of waiting months or even years to think, “Oh, maybe that’s what God was trying to tell me way back then.”

Now today’s Gospel reading is the story of what we often refer to as “Jesus cleansing the Temple.”  Jesus is in Jerusalem with thousands of other visitors as Passover is about to begin.  Like everyone else, Jesus went up onto the Temple mount.  And there, he caused a big commotion.

He became viscerally angry.  He overturned the tables of the people converting currency. He chased away the animals being sold for sacrifice. And he yelled at people for turning his Father’s house into a marketplace.

Usually, we get caught up in all this commotion.  After all, the commotion clearly made an impression – it’s one of the few incidents from Jesus’ ministry that’s remembered by all four of our Gospels.  But in John’s Gospel, there’s an important difference. 

In John’s telling of the story, Jesus “cleanses the Temple” at the very beginning of his ministry – not at the end.  This is the first trip that Jesus makes to Jerusalem in John’s Gospel, and Jesus and his disciples continue to come and go for about 3 more years.

And so as John tells the story, this is potentially the very first time Jesus ends up on the radar of the Temple authorities (where they begin to wonder whether they should keep an eye on this guy.)  And Jesus draws attention to himself by doing what prophets had done before – making a commotion on the Temple mount and telling people that they’re not living the way God wants them to live.

And so the Temple authorities come to Jesus and say, “OK, so you think you’re a prophet.  If so, what’s the sign that you can give us that you’re really a prophet?”

That’s when Jesus tells them this stuff about destroying the temple and in three days he’ll raise it up.  The authorities scoff at that, and don’t get what Jesus means.

But neither did the disciples.  In fact, the end of this story is John’s admission that the disciples were as clueless to what Jesus meant as everybody else.  And they continued to be clueless until more than 3 years later.  It was only “after he was raised from the dead” that the disciples remembered these words, and had an “aha” moment – “oh, that’s what Jesus meant!” That’s what Jesus was trying to tell us and show us.  Only now, years later, do we get it.

The disciples had to wait to fully see and understand what God was doing in their lives.  And this isn’t the only place that John makes this point in his Gospel.  In fact, John adds this ending to today’s story because it was often the case that for the disciples to fully see, understand and appreciate what Jesus was saying and doing in their lives, they needed:

  • Patience – like me, they might have wanted for Jesus to make it all clear right now.  But often, they needed to wait.  They needed to see and learn more.  They needed to have the other pieces of the story in place before this one would even begin to make sense …
  • Persistence – they needed to keep following, and not give up and go home when they didn’t understand or when they felt a little uncomfortable…; the disciples needed to keep learning; they needed to grow through this and other experiences; and they needed to put the stuff they didn’t understand on the back burner so that later they could see how it all fit together…
  • Perspective – John says that nothing made sense until “after [Jesus] was raised from the dead”; finally in the end, it was the perspective of the Resurrection that transformed the disciple’s faith and understanding; it wasn’t Jesus’ deep philosophy; it wasn’t the socially conscious program of feeding and healing; it was Jesus’ rising from the dead that gave light and meaning and purpose to everything else Jesus said and did…

And so maybe one of the most important lessons from this story comes from these last couple of verses.  Like the first disciples, I’d prefer NOT to have to wait to know and understand where God is, what God is doing and what God is trying to show me.  Maybe you feel the same way, at least some of the time.

But like the first disciples, it’s often the case that to really grow into being Jesus’ disciples, we also need:

  • Patience – just like that day on the Temple mount, it’s sometimes just not clear, in the heat of the moment, what Jesus is doing in my life or what I’m supposed to learn from it … (I’ve been thinking of that as I’ve been wondering what I’m supposed to learn from living through this pandemic…); sometimes, like the first disciples, part of us growing as disciples means we just need to have the patience to live with the discomfort and the uncertainty…
  • Persistence – perhaps the biggest challenge the first disciples faced was the challenge of not walking away when things got weird or uncomfortable…  I’m not proud of this, but there are times I simply walk out of  a store because the lines are too long, even when I really need something…; part of growing in faith and understanding is simply about being persistent and not giving up when things seem long, difficult or complicated…
  • Perspective – mostly in our lives, instead of viewing life from the perspective of God, we view it from the perspective of “Oh my God!”… (how bad, or horrible or unjust things are); sometimes, that’s good because it causes us to address problems or injustice; sometimes, it’s just the way it is because conflict and chaos makes for the best click-bait.  But the disciples eventually came to see that day on the Temple mount not from the perspective of the chaos and commotion, but from the perspective of the Resurrection; and what would it mean for us to practice viewing life – all of it – the good and the bad – from the perspective of God’s promise of new life, wholeness and restoration, rather than from the perspective of the chaos and commotion that usually consumes us…?

I will probably never enjoy waiting.  Maybe many of you won’t as well.  And I’m certain that at least a few of the disciples didn’t like it either.

But here’s the thing – even when the disciples didn’t understand or appreciate what Jesus meant or what Jesus was doing, Jesus was still working in their lives to prepare them for the future.  And Jesus is doing that in our lives as well. And the disciples who managed patience and persistence until they got to the perspective of the Resurrection didn’t wait in vain.

And so even though we may be tempted to focus on the chaos and commotion – of either the Bible story or the world around us – Jesus instead calls us to live with patience to see more fully what God is doing in our lives.  Jesus calls us to persistence in following him boldly into the future, even when we’re not sure where we’re being led.  And most of all, Jesus calls us always to the perspective of the Resurrection, which promises us and the whole world a future of hope, life and healing in spite of the commotion around us.