Monday, January 23, 2006

Right on time

I was working on this during the retreat over the weekend, but I have not had a chance to post on this until now.

The lessons for the third Sunday in Ordinary time:

  • Jonah 3:1-5, 10
  • Psalm 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9
  • First Corinthians 7:29-31
  • Mark 1:14-20
I'm not a fan of alarm clocks. As a fairly regular sleeper, I can generally rely on waking up when I need to on my own, and will feel better all day if I get up naturally, and am not shocked awake. But there is one alarm clock that I did love. Growing up, the alarm clocks in cartoons were brassy and round, with 2 big bells on the top struck by a mechanical clapper. I thought that these clocks were mythical - the only alarm clock I knew was the square white plastic Westclox on my father's nightstand. When we moved to Germany in 1968, I was entranced by the big round wind-up alarm clock we bought. The tick could be heard in the next building, and the alarm would wake the dead. I ended up with it when I moved to college and used it for years -- even if I can't figure out where it is now.

An alarm clock is a great example of how differently we see time from how it is used in this Gospel lesson, and time is just what this lesson is about. Two weeks ago we heard about the revelation that changes how we see everything else, including ourselves. Last week we learned about how we are to respond to that change, to God's call to us. This week we learn that this revelation and this call have arrived because now is the right time.

The story this week is the same as from last week -- Jesus calls the first disciples. But in Matthew's version, the emphasis is on time:
After John had been arrested,
Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God:
"This is the time of fulfillment.
The kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent, and believe in the gospel."
The whole history of God's creation, and his relationship with Israel is now coming to a climax, a fulfillment that requires a response from us.

Today, we think of time as something to measure, the stuff of calendars and schedules and clocks. We treat is as a kind of personal possession, talking about my time or your time as if we could buy it in a store and give it as a present. The ancient Greeks called this kind of time chronos (from which we get words like chronological and chronograph) and often depicted is as an old man, who has seen a lot of time go by. But there was another word for time, kairos. This is the time of completion, the moment of opportunity, usually pictured by the Greeks as a young man, at the peak of vitality. You measure chronos with an alarm clock, which doles out the minutes you can sleep. Jesus is not telling Simon, Andrew, James and John that the coming of the Kingdom of God was right on schedule. He proclaims that the moment of opportunity for them is now here.

It is time for them to follow Jesus. I think we sometimes misread the story of the call of the disciples. The Gospels are not detailed narratives or history in the way we are used to, and details that we would expect are not included. Some see, in this passage, these first disciples suddenly (and dramatically) dropping everything to follow someone they barely know. That is not very likely. Galilee is not a big place at all, and even in the First century there is quite a bit of trade between towns. Consider that Jesus and his followers ended up walking all over this area themselves. There is no reason to believe that they couldn't know of Jesus already, quite possibly through his cousin, John the Baptist. I believe that when Jesus comes by, they are responding to someone that they know, that they have already learned to trust. Jesus is now telling them that things have changed, that the waiting is over. The four are ready, and respond.

It is sometimes easy to confuse these ideas of time in our own lives. Our society sets out a schedule for us. There is a specific age when we are to go to school, then find a job and mate. We expect to know by 20, or at the latest, 25, just what we are going to do with our lives. As time, chronos, passes, we may enjoy success or failure. If things do not seem to go well from the beginning, if we screw up significantly, we can feel that time has passed us by, that we have wasted our time and our life. But we misunderstand God, kairos, and the real arc of our lives.

If we choose to know Jesus, to build a relationship of trust, one day we will hear: "it is time". It may be a call when we are young to dedicate ourselves to service as religious or priest. It may be the call to married life, to build in a family the pattern for all human society. Or it may come later in an otherwise unexpected call to ministry, even when we think it is too late, that our failures disqualify us. While we are concentrating on the time we can measure, the time on a clock, God is bringing us to that moment when we can, in complete freedom choose to be just that person we were created to be, to do our unique job in bringing the reign of God to this sorry world. All in the fullness of God's time.

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