Thursday, January 21, 2021

Timing is everything

Text Mark 3.11-12:  Whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and shouted, ‘You are the Son of God!’ But he sternly ordered them not to make him known.

Any comedian will tell you, that timing is everything!  Who can forget, for example, the incredible Eric Morecombe, when he was accused of playing the wrong notes by Andre Previn?  His answer, perfectly timed, is indelibly printed into our memories: “I’m playing all the right notes…but not necessarily….in the right order”.

Timing is everything in the world of human affairs, too.  Politicians have to decide when the moment is right to release their latest policy, or lockdown instruction.  And, as we’ve seen during the Pandemic, if their timing is off by even a few days, it can have very serious consequences.  I have nothing but sympathy for our national leaders at this time, balancing the economy with the needs of the health service.  But timing is everything.

Jesus faced a similar conundrum.  Throughout his ministry, we hear him telling people ‘my time has not yet come’ (as he does to his Mother, when changing water into wine).  He often tells those he has healed not to go around calling him the Messiah.  And in today’s Gospel, despite preaching to large crowds of both Jew and Gentile, he commands evil spirits to keep silence about his status as the Son of God.

Of course, Jesus knew that words like ‘messiah’, or phrases like ‘Son of God’ carried real weight and meaning.  He never denies that these words apply to him – but he tries to slow down the transmission of that knowledge.  This is quite simply because he knows what the consequences will be.  Accusations of blasphemy would quickly follow, and he would lose the chance to teach the things he came to teach.  He also knows that the culmination of his life on earth must take place at Jerusalem, and quite specifically at the time of the Passover – so that his new status as the Lamb of God, sacrificed for us and by us, can be established both symbolically and clearly.

So timing was everything for Jesus.  And it remains so for God.  We human beings always think that we know best.  We bang our fists on the gates of heaven, imploring God to act in the way we think he should.  “Lord, take away this virus!”.  “Lord, heal my friend now”. “Lord, feed the hungry, today”.  But so often, if we are honest with ourselves, the gates of heaven feel firmly shut.  God appears to turn a deaf ear to our pleas.

But God’s timing is perfect.  On this we can rely: that God will always act when it is absolutely the optimum moment for such action.  We can only speculate as to why he waits, for our minds are but shadows of his.  Our wisdom is foolishness to God.   

Perhaps by allowing the Corona Virus to run rampant around the world, God is calling humanity to radically change the way we live…for there is no doubt that our ways of living released and propagated the virus.  Perhaps if we emerge too quickly, and without sufficient pain, we will just shrug our collective shoulders, pat ourselves on the back for our cleverness, and then carry on living, flying, and consuming the world’s resources in precisely the same ways that we did before.

On a more personal level, perhaps God withholds the healing that we pray for our friend or loved one, because he wants to give them or us time to grow through the experience of our pain. 

Perhaps God doesn’t feed the hungry, because he is creating the space for us as a society, to do what we should do, and obey the command he has already given, that “there shall be no poor among you” (Deut.15.4).

Of this, we can be certain:  God’s timing is perfect.  And, as Jesus himself taught, our heavenly father knows what we need before we even ask him.  (Matt 6.8).  Our task is to trust in God, to follow his teachings, and wait for his perfect timing.

It’s like when my grandson climbs up onto my knee and says ‘Trains, Bampy!’ (which is what he calls me).  That’s his way of praying that I will turn on the TV and show him the movies of steam trains that he loves.  But, I know that the time is not yet right.  He’s about to have his dinner.  Or his bath.  Or its time for bed.  So I pat him on the head, and tell him that the time is not yet right for ‘Trains’!

So what does this mean for our prayers?  Are we wasting our breath (and our time) when we storm the gates of heaven with our petitions and pleas for action?  Well, honestly, perhaps we are (if our intent is to somehow provoke God into action that he would not otherwise take).  So what is prayer for?  And why does Jesus and the church encourage us to do it?

Because prayer does not change God.  Prayer changes me!  As I deliberately, and with focus, bring the needs of the world to my mind before God, I am changed by the experience.  As I lay before God the desires of my heart, he speaks to my heart.  He tells me to trust, and to ‘be not afraid’.  And by his Holy Spirit, he prompts me to take the action that I can take.  To be the change that I can be in the world. 

And he assures me that his timing is perfect, and that he will act, if and when the time is right.


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