The biblical passage: Jacob 5, 7-8
Be patient, therefore, brethren, to the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receiveth the early and the latter rain. Be ye also patient; establish your hearts; for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.
Jacob the Apostle is the author of today’s biblical passage, and the addressees of his letter are the early Christians living c. 20 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus. Their situation was entirely different from ours, for in their Christian life they had no chance to refer to the long tradition called the history of Christianity and the Church, in which they would be able to find patterns to imitate. Faith in Jesus was for them a wholly new matter totally incomparable with any experience of people living before them, for there were no Christians in the world prior to them. They did not live, as we do now, in a society organized on the basis of Christian values. They had no chance to grow step by step into the new religion, its customs and values in their families; there was no religious education at school. The addressees of Jacob’s letter were “fledgling Christians,” who faced very specific problems.
For example, the early Christians experienced uncertainty whether, accepting Christian faith, they had made the right choice in their life, or they had difficulty in estimating what influence their faith should exert on their lives and activity to be genuine faith (cf. Jacob 1, 22). That is why Jacob the Apostle, giving his addresses support in faith, shares with them his conviction that Christian faith is like a small seed which will after a while bear fruit. In his letter Jacob gives the example of a farmer who patiently waits for the precious fruit of the earth.
It turns out, then, that Christian faith and patience belong together, for patience has a lot in common with trust in God. Hence patience is very similar to faith. Interestingly, patience, if we understand it this way, makes one impervious to fanaticism, which is blind to good and needs of particular people and strives to realize its aims (for instance, religious) at any price, by any means. In our practical life it is, then, not at all unimportant how we live. But at the same time the style of our Christian life is not at all obvious. One could even say that we must all the time be attentive to its quality. That is, we change all the time under the impact of various experiences, books, conversations, so that every day we become slightly different, every moment we are re-born as Christians. To illustrate this experience, one could use the image of the river, whose cuurant influences our life. Carried by the torrent of the river, we have no control over many factors: the shape of the banks and bottom of the river, the direction in which it flows or its depth. There is no question of arresting the river, just as there is no question of arresting the flow of passing time. We are borne by it. This experience, which can otherwise evoke a sense of being overwhelmed, Jacob the Apostle renders with the help of the image of the farmer waiting for crops. Everything begins with an inconspicuous seed, which after it has been sown undergoes incessant transformations, so that each day it becomes different. The farmer has no influence on the process of these transformations. And the seed needs a lot of time to achieve its aim, or more precisely, to bear ripe fruit.
This is almost an ideal example, which in a very vivid way explains the natural course of affairs, which may nonetheless be not that obvious to us. After all, we live in the times which are very feverish, I often hear that everyone is pressed for time, I can see that we often go to fast food restaurants, where there is no time to taste dishes, we take advantage of the modern mass media which feed us with brief, and hence, cursory information. But their main weakness is the failure to make the complex reality in which we live comprehensible to us; they only succeed in making us experience certain, most often negative, emotions, such as hopelessness, absurdity and fear.
I think that in the context of our life today’s biblical passage, advocating patience, seems quite exceptional, as if it had been written for people living nowadays! One can clearly see that patience, as a kind of counterbalance for impatience and the high pace of life, is priceless! Further, it turns out that we need this patience on a daily basis both as individuals and as society. The Apostle Jacob seems to tell us today that our kind heart and politeness which we offer to other people, our neighbours, even though frequently unreciprocated, are not vain. He tells us that our forces and energy which we devote to make the world even a tiny little bit better place, though they often may seem ineffective to us – are also far from futile. Let us listen once again carefully to the words of Jacob: “Be patient […] to the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receiveth the early and the latter rain. Be ye also patient; establish your hearts; for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.”
Writing the letter the Apostle Jacob bore in mind the community of Christians and their everyday mutual relationships. He wanted the faith of some people to work a kind of incentive for others. Faith and the communities of faith, i.e. the Church, should have and integrating effect on people, so that a person in need can find support and a sense of community. The effort to make the world around us more humane and just should be obvious to Christians.
Thereby Jacob the Apostle summons us to strengthen our hearts, “for,” as he argues, “the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.” There are important tasks to be performed, in the face of which we have to calculate our strength so as to avoid the situation in which the demands that we make on ourselves will be too high. As can be seen, patience has nothing in common with passiveness or idleness.
In conclusion, let me repeat that strengthening our hearts we solidify in ourselves the conviction that Jesus does not only come to us, but that He is all the time among us (above all in the Word of God and the Sacrament of the Altar). From Him we receive spiritual power of the other world. Since Easter we have had the privilege of knowing that Jesus is the precious fruit given to us, who in an extraordinary way by His Spirit connects the earth and Heaven, us with Himself. Amen.
Rev. Dr Dariusz Chwastek, translated by Dr Joanna Teske