(Wis.1:13-15, 2:23-24; 2Cor.8:7, 9, 13-15; Mk.5:21-43)
In our society, we have fast food, fast shipping and high-speed internet. Clearly, many people don’t like waiting.
Houston Airport used to get lots of complaints about long wait times at their baggage carousel. They couldn’t speed up the baggage delivery, however, so they simply moved the arrival gates. Now people walk six times longer, but the complaints have dropped to almost zero. [i]
In Mark’s Gospel today, Jairus can’t wait; his daughter is dying. So, when Jesus arrives, Jairus begs him to save her. Jesus agrees to help, and starts walking towards Jairus’ home. But on the way he’s distracted by a woman who also needs help, and in the meantime Jairus’ daughter dies.
Now, why didn’t Jesus heal that child immediately? He healed the Centurion’s servant instantly in Capernaum (Mt.8:5-13), so why did Jairus have to wait?
Perhaps Jesus wanted to spend time with him. Perhaps he wanted to encourage Jairus’ humility and patience. Perhaps he wanted Jairus to learn to trust him.
In any case, when Jesus arrives at Jairus’ home, he holds the dead girl’s hand and says, ‘Little girl, arise!’ And she does! This miracle reminds us that Jesus really is ‘the resurrection and the life’ (Jn.11:25).
But the woman who asks Jesus for help also had to wait. She had waited 12 years for a cure for her ailment, and now Jesus is her last hope. She desperately touches his cloak and instantly she’s healed. ‘Your faith has saved you,’ Jesus says. [ii]
So how do these stories touch our own lives?
In her novel The Underpainter, Jane Urquhard says there are two kinds of waiting: there’s the waiting that consumes our minds, and the waiting that happens just below the surface of our awareness. We might not know it, she says, but in one way or another we’re always waiting. [iii]
We wait for nine months to be born, we wait for our buds to bloom, for our child to grow, for the taxi to arrive and for the lights to change.
But most of us aren’t good at waiting, and that’s why so much of today’s technology aims to make life easier and faster, to give us more control. The problem, however, is that this just gives us a sense of entitlement and pride.
And it can encourage our impatience.
This isn’t what God wants for us (Ps.37:34). Some of the greatest Biblical figures, including Abraham, Joseph, Moses and David, all waited for years for God’s promises to come through. And as they waited, God shaped and moulded them so that when their time came, they were blessed beyond measure (2Cor.4:16-18).
The Buddhist monk Thích Nhất Hạnh says that when we see a flower, and take the time to look deeply into it, we’ll see not only its shape and colour, but also the sunshine, the rain and the soil that are part of that flower and part of ourselves as well.
We can practice this deep reflection whenever we find ourselves waiting, he says. While we’re stuck in traffic, we can become aware of the clouds. When we have our morning coffee, we can savour its aroma and feel the warmth and weight of the mug.
In these quiet moments, the urge to do and to be somewhere else, subsides. Our breath, our heartbeat slows down, and the waiting becomes our friend.
In his book Balaam’s Donkey, the Cistercian monk Michael Casey reminds us that some things take time to develop. Rome was not built in a day, he says, and any worthwhile art or craft takes years to master. It can take years – even decades – before our spiritual life begins to develop the way we’d like it to.
God’s work in us proceeds at its own pace, Casey says. It has to work on several levels simultaneously, and the transformation it seeks to accomplish is so radical that there are many other issues that must be faced before it can flower. [iv]
Waiting, then, can be good for us. It gives us time to rest, reflect and learn. And it teaches us trust and endurance – and gratitude when things work out.
Now, have you noticed that God sometimes sends encouraging signs while we’re waiting for our prayers to be answered? That’s what happens to Jairus.
While he’s walking with Jesus, Jairus sees Jesus healing someone else. That gives him hope and it strengthens his faith.
Such signs are a gift. May we, too, see the signs God sends us when we next find ourselves waiting.
[ii] This is the only miracle in the Gospels where Jesus doesn’t initiate the cure.
[iii] Jane Urquhard, The Underpainter, McClelland & Steward, Toronto, 1997:95.
[iv] Michael Casey, Balaam’s Donkey. Liturgical Press, Collegeville. 2019:447.