Monday, January 13, 2014

How long will we give him?

Today not surprisingly as we begin ordinary time, we begin reading, the oldest Gospel, Mark, and the beginning of Jesus's ministry. After the time in the desert, according to Mark, it was the arrest of John that set the ministry of Jesus in motion.

We like the way it happens in Mark's gospel, the speed with which it moves. John is arrested and Jesus starts. In fact all of Mark's gospel moves at lightening speed.

In contrast, today we start two weeks of reading the First Book of Samuel. We begin with the story of Elkanah and his two wives: Hannah and Penninah. While Peninnah had children, Hannah did not. No matter how much we talk about it is impossible for us to grasp how painful this was for women of that time. To make it worse Peninnah would mercilessly tease Hannah about this fact.

Year after year, they would go to Shiloh to offer sacrifice to God. Elkanah tried to do what he could by giving to Hannah a double portion. But apparently none of this was to any avail. Year after year they would go, and year after year she remained childless. One can only imagine the hours she spent praying and crying.

We like Mark's gospel. John is arrested and Jesus appears. Fortunately sometimes God does work that way. We pray for something, and God responds yes immediately.

Sometimes however we must be Hannah. We must simply be patient. We have to go through the pain, not around it. We must endure the taunting of people who take pleasure in the suffering of others.

The universe is too intricate for any human mind to grasp, and yet God sees how every piece of every life fits together in a seamless whole. Every free choice of every person and how it ripples through the lives of others.

Today as we pray, hopefully some of our prayers will be prayers of thanksgiving. Some of our prayers will surely be petition. How long are we willing to give God to respond?

It is true that sometimes the answer is no. But it is also true that sometimes the answer is "not now." Can we trust God? Can we like Hannah wait years and put up with people like Peninnah?

When the answer is not an immediate yes, can we still hold firm to what yesterday's gospel told us. We are the beloved sons and daughters of God. Can we know that whatever answer God gives, and whenever he gives it, it is the perfect answer.