Bearing Wrongs Patiently
By: Andrew L. Minto, PhD
Patiently?” she asked. “Yes,” I replied, “the virtue of patience is how one bears the wrongs that have been done to us.”
“So if I am being patient, then what am I waiting for? What is supposed to happen when you are patient? And why do I have to carry his wrongs against me?”
I make it a point not to assume that I should counsel our students beyond their academic needs. At our university we have a superb counseling department as well as a campus ministry in which the Franciscan Friars and professional laity guide the students. My role is teaching mental health and spiritual matters. While I always defer to the able talents on campus, occasionally, I listen to students who want to share their lives more deeply.
How could I get across to this student that the history of the Church is filled with testimony that while the Church is holy, perfect in Christ, and pure, individuals in the Church may not be. My student was learning that hard life lesson in the worst possible way.
Bearing wrongs patiently is a work of mercy offered to the person who has offended us; it acknowledges God’s mercy working in us to transform us through the power of the cross. Luke links the cross directly to a disciple’s status and relation to Jesus. After querying the disciples about his identity (“Who do the crowds say that I am?”), ruling out John the Baptist and Elijah, Peter makes the consummate confession, “The Messiah of God” (Luke 9:18–20). At this point Jesus eschews glory and exaltation, although these will be made known in the story of the transfiguration coming up in my next narrative in Liguorian. At Peter’s profession, Jesus warns the disciples of humiliation, injustice, and violence that awaits him in Jerusalem at the hands of the religious elders, the chief priests, and scribes. These are the people in positions of power and influence, the very people who should know better. Yet they will be the ones who will put Jesus to death. My student had experienced a similar betrayal in an encounter with a person of celebrated religious reputation.
Immediately following Peter’s announcement in Luke, Jesus links the experience of the cross directly to discipleship. The structure of Jesus’ words in Luke 9:23 warrants our attention:
A: If anyone wishes to come after me,
B: He must deny himself
B: And take up his cross daily
A: And follow me.
Jesus’ determination to journey to Jerusalem, which begins (Luke 9:51) shortly after the transfiguration, indicates that suffering is a key component of his mission. If that is the case for Jesus, then it is equally so for anyone who would follow him.
Biblical scholars recognize the sentence structure of this verse as a chiasm or a cross-over symmetry that links the components of the verse. In this case, a synonymous symmetry (ABBA)—which is very common throughout the Bible—occurs to draw the reader’s attention to the inner relationships of the verbal expression. The first and last lines (A:A) are virtually synonymous, as are the middle lines (B:B). In imitation of how such schooling and discipline took place in rabbinic circles, to come after and to follow Jesus are technical expressions in Luke’s Gospel signifying discipleship in action.
Up to this point in the narrative, following Jesus has been a matter of one victorious and glorious conquest after another. This is demonstrated in the mission of the twelve who were sent out “to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal” (Luke 9:2; 9:6). All of Jesus’ success in proclaiming the kingdom of God and healing the afflicted was multiplied by twelve. Upon their return, Jesus withdrew with them to Bethsaida, but the crowd sought them out, leading to the scene of the multiplication of the five loaves and two fish (Luke 9:10–17).
At this stage in Luke’s narrative there seems to be no restriction to Jesus’ influence and success. And yet at the profession of his identity as the Christ, which is thematic in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus announces the exact opposite of what might be expected, what interpreters refer to as the theme of the “Great Reversal” that runs the length of the Gospel. The heart of Jesus’ ministry is not the successes that he obtains in preaching and healing. Rather it is found in his own self-denial and embrace of the cross that awaits him in Jerusalem.
In Luke 9:2, cited above, Luke indicates that Jesus’ destiny is also the destiny for the disciples. In the middle of the chiasm—that which receives the poetic emphasis—self-denial and taking up the cross repeat the core theme. The heart of discipleship, as it is for Jesus’ relation to the Father, is not success but sacrifice.
Self-denial opens the door to the power of God who works through Jesus and the disciples. It is not themselves nor their own agenda that they proclaim, but the kingdom of God and the works of power that attend its entrance into the world. This will be seen again in the return of the seventy-two disciples from a mission similar to that granted to the twelve (Luke 10:1–12). Upon their return they exclaim, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us because of your name.” Jesus responds, “I have observed Satan fall like lightning from the sky,” a saying that refers back to Jesus’ dismissal of the devil in the temptation scene at the beginning of his public ministry (Luke 4:1–13).