We were thrilled when my little niece Zippy first began to speak in words we could understand. From baby babble emerged the first recognizable vocabulary: “Mamma”; “Dadda”; “’nanna (banana)” and “shoes.” However, when she said, early and audibly, “Two minutes!” we were both greatly surprised and greatly amused.
At age two Zippy still says “Two minutes!” and it is clear that while she has mastered the pronunciation, the actual meaning of the phrase still eludes her. At times, she recognizes it as a stall tactic. “Zippy, can I please have my phone back?” I ask. “Two minutes!” Zippy replies, meaning I must wait. However, “Zippy talk two minutes!” means “Zippy wants the phone, NOW, this minute.” She will ask to hear a song: “One!” by which she means, “One after another,” and listening for “Two minutes!” in that situation translates as “indefinitely…”
In general, the concept of time is confusing if not meaningless to two year-olds. “I will be back tomorrow” does not console her; she throws herself on the floor, bereft. (Yes, I am that cool). “Later” is just a code word for “no.” And she certainly doesn’t understand “this is not the time to sing” when she breaks out into “Baby Shark” during the Christmas homily, particularly when such a large crowd has gathered to hear her performance.
If the concept of human time is puzzling to toddlers, the concept of God’s timing is equally puzzling to us, even as adults. I confess that when God says “Wait!” I do not always react well.
I remember in college that God promised that a particular prayer intention would be answered, but that I must wait. I thought, “Okay, I have a few minutes.” Eighteen years later, His answer exceeded my expectations, but I learned the hard way that His time-frame did too.
Even now, I too am tempted to tantrums when God says, “Wait.” I find myself bereft when He seems absent, wondering if I will ever seem Him again. And when I pray for solutions to the problems of life, and they don’t come quickly enough, I wonder if He is listening.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus is preaching in a synagogue in Capernaum when he is interrupted by a snarky demon. “I know who you are…the holy one of God!” declares the demon. Jesus first silences him, then drives him out. “Quiet! Come out of him!” Jesus commands in Mark 1:24.
Why doesn’t Jesus want the crowd to hear this declaration? A few verses later, in Mark 1:34, we again hear of Jesus specifically preventing the demons from revealing his identity: “He healed many who were ill with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and He was not permitting the demons to speak, because they knew who He was.”
If Jesus has come to reveal His identity as the Son of God, why silence the demons? Or perhaps a more interesting question: What would the demons have to gain by revealing it?
It is the mystery of timing again. God’s timing is perfect. Patience is a virtue that we do well to cultivate. But more importantly, the mystery of timing reveals another mystery: that the Christian life is about relationship, not results.
The answer to Jesus’ identity is not a bit of trivia, or even a theological proposition to answer correctly on an exam. We come to know Him as He is WITH US (Emmanuel again). Jesus wants the people to come to know God as revealed by His person, not just as a match to their expectations.
His healings, His miracles, His teachings, and ultimately His gift of self on the Cross and in the Eucharist, reveal to us the face of God. It is encounter that teaches us, and encounter that changes us.
We need to hear Him say, to the leper within, “I do will—be healed.” We need to experience the gaze of the loving eyes which behold the sinful woman weeping at his feet, to hear him say, as to the woman caught in adultery “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and sin no more.” We need to watch Him calm the storms without and within; to cast out demons and welcome back outcasts; to feed with a new Manna that is both Presence and Promise.
We want to rush ahead to the solution, to the answer: Who is this guy preaching in the synagogue? What does He plan to do to/for us? But Jesus wants us to experience His presence. To walk with Him, to listen, to question, to learn not only His message but His heart.
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Over Christmas vacation I take Zippy on a walk to the library. It is a two-minute walk if one goes directly. But there is so much to experience along the way: leftover snow to touch, steps to climb up and down, puppies to shriek at delightedly and try to pet. She wants to see her breath in the air; she wants to see what is in the half-frozen puddle in the driveway; she wants to pick up pebbles and watch them dance as she throws them on the path. She wants to run and then be carried and then put down so she can meander down the sidewalk. If we don’t make it all the way to the library; that’s okay. Life is short. Just two minutes.