Lazarus, love and patience

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Valentine’s Day is a great holiday to have in the middle of winter – the passionate warmth of love imprinted on our minds and bodies amid the frost and desolation of mid-February.

The great chapter about love in the Bible is generally considered to be Paul’s 1 Corinthians 13 in the New Testament, but it has nothing to do with the excitations of Valentine’s Day. Paul is describing the divine love of Jesus Christ and the example it should be in our lives as Christians, not the roses and romance of modern culture. And a central aspect of divine love, Paul teaches, is patience.

Theologian Kenneth Bailey offers fascinating insight on patience as the language of divine love in his truly excellent book “Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes.” Bailey cites the lessons of patience in Jesus’ parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man (Luke 16:19-30), and amplifies them using Paul’s passage on love along with other familiar Bible stories. Here is Bailey (pages 389-390):

“In his matchless definition of Christian love (agape), Paul lists characteristics that are found in such love (1 Corinthians 13:4-7). The list begins with one form of patience (makrothymia in Greek) and ends with a second form of patience (hypomone).

Makrothymia is a composite word consisting of makran (far away) and thymos (anger). As a single word makrothymia has to do with ‘putting one’s anger far away.’ This is the patience of the powerful who are able to wreck vengeance on their enemies but choose to be patient and refrain from doing so. It is the patience of David standing over the sleeping body of Saul when Saul went to kill David (1 Samuel 26:6-25). … David’s aide urged him to kill his sleeping enemy. But David exhibited makrothymia and stayed his hand.

“The other form of patience, hypomone, is also comprised of two Greek words. The first is the preposition hypo (under). The second is mone, which has to do with endurance. The person with hypomone is willing to “remain under” great stress or suffering. The primary biblical example of this virtue is Mary standing silently at the cross and choosing to not walk away. Lazarus exhibits both of these forms of patience. In his earthly life … he was longsuffering and full of hypomone. At the side of Abraham (in heaven), he demonstrates makrothymia, he puts his anger far away.”

Divine love, then, is inextricably linked to merciful Christ-like patience, while Valentine’s-Day-type love is often marked by passionate human impatience.

May we have the Godly discernment and wisdom to know when those we love need our patience more than our passion.



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