The Reverend Kathleen Killian
Jonah 3:1-5, 10
1 Corinthians 7:29-31
January 21st 2024
What Time is It?
The gospel of Mark begins like an alarm clock, and there’s no snooze button. It’s time to wake up, get going, and respond to the time at hand. What time is it?
St. Mark, and the authors of the New Testament understand themselves to be living in a decisive time when God had already acted or was soon to intercede in human affairs. Our Old Testament passage also spoke to such a decisive moment, when the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you. Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” Time was of the essence—just forty days—before Nineveh, the Assyrian capital and enemy camp would be destroyed by God. Just forty days for them to get their act together and repent!
The intent of biblical prophets is to forewarn their listeners and turn their hearts to the urgency of the time at hand, so that a needed, sudden, and saving change of direction would occur. So too St. Paul warns the Corinthians in our Epistle: the appointed time has grown short; from now on . . . and then he goes on to list various ways of their living and being; they marry, mourn and rejoice, buy and sell—but as if not. In other words, he is urging the Corinthians to pursue a radical reorganization of their priorities and perceptions of the current reality; for, as he goes on to say, the present form of this world is passing away.
Note that the world itself is not passing away but its form. Paul and the early Christian communities expected the imminent return of Jesus, and so they believed their form of reality was changing. Time itself was undergoing a change, from clock or quotidian time (chronos) to divine or God’s time (kairos) to end times (eschatological) or the decisive in-breaking of God into their world.
How do we understand “the time” we live in? How do we understand time itself? As simply a measure or counting of our days? As something there never seems to be enough of or something we have too much of? Not enough time or too much time on our hands. Depending, time may seem to us a friend or a foe. But however we understand it, time gives shape to our very being.
In our gospel, the call of the first disciples grows out of Jesus’ announcement of the time: the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news. They are called to repent because the time is fulfilled. The kingdom of God that has come near is a precondition of their discipleship and not a product of it.
St. Mark tells us that Jesus is not simply announcing the time, but rather, that it is Jesus himself who fulfills the time; that in himself, the fulfilled time is always now. And so when Jesus calls Simon and Andrew, they immediately leave their fishing nets and way of life. When he calls James and John, they immediately leave their nets, their way of life, and also their father. All of them immediately leave the essential framework of their identity—work, place, and family—when Jesus says to them, Follow me, and I will make you fish for people. A more literal translation would be: Follow me, and I will make you to become fishers of people. This is an important distinction between a task—fishing for people—and a new identity—becoming fishers for people.
Jesus calls his disciples in the present tense, meaning now, in time, not theory; and in an active voice, meaning that without a doubt Jesus is doing the calling. Lastly, his call to follow is in an imperative mood, meaning Jesus issues a command to which a response and an action is expected. Follow me: two simple words yet how great is their sum.
Many of Christ’s disciples will not be called to drop everything; nonetheless, we must want to! We must want to let go of the life we know, and of the time we have. Our outer circumstances may not change as radically as that of the first disciples, but our inner circumstances and conditions can be just as radically transformed. Though Jesus calls his disciples by name—Andrew, Simon, James and John—his call is an invitation to a new identity, new each day, in God.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is not simply informational—this is what happened and this is who Jesus was—but transformational and alchemical—timeless—because this is what is happening and who you are becoming in Christ.
The whole of the New Testament could be considered a story about being awake to the particular time at hand. Salvation history itself is grounded in the content of a specific day, place, and time: chronos or clock time; kairos or God’s divine time; and eschatological time or cosmic end times. Via scripture, liturgy, and the sacraments, most especially communion, the church marks and engages time in all three of these aspects or depths. This braid or interweaving of time provides for us a greater awareness of and a deeper connection to the eternal and abiding Presence of the Holy One.
As Fr. John preached last week, the season of Epiphany is about how Christ is manifest in our lives and world, and revealed to be at the core of our identity. Deeper than any qualities that can be outwardly named is an identity grounded in God, something that is at our very core, that we may intuit about ourselves or that others may sense in us, but that can be largely ignored or forgotten as we become caught up in the trappings of the world, and in the temporal itself. St. Paul’s words are as true now as they were then, that the present form of the world is passing away.
Our core identity in God, and God’s ultimate claim on us offsets or makes relative the temporal forms of the world, that of work, place, and family. But God’s claim and God’s call is ever to transformation, meaning to endings that beget new life. Jonah initially refused and resisted a call that began in Tarshish, continued in the belly of a whale, and ended in the city of Nineveh, but everyone in the story was changed—Jonah, albeit begrudgingly, the whole city of Nineveh, even God: When God saw what Nineveh did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it. Everyone repents!
Sometimes, I’m like Jonah, reluctant to answer a divine summons. But I’ve also had my “fisher of people” moment when I drop everything, immediately. Though I’m not always radically obedient, I want to be. I believe yet doubt. I have faith but waiver. I pray for peace and worry at the same time. I trust, but I want to trust more fully. I could pray these beautiful verses from psalm 62 more often:
For God alone my soul in silence waits; *
truly, my hope is in him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation, *
my stronghold, so that I shall not be shaken.
In God is my safety and my honor; *
God is my strong rock and my refuge.
Even so, I lament at the conditions of our times in which disaster, injustice, violence, and suffering have such a stronghold. I often think about what Jesus said, that the poor you will always have with you. Indeed, the world we will always have with us, until it is not so. Let us remember too that time conveys with it the goodness and hope, and mercy and love of the world—in which Jesus continues to walk among all of his children.
He doesn’t set about explaining the why's and how’s of time and space, creation and its history, or for that matter the actions of his Father, our God. Rather, Jesus calls out to us time and time again: Follow me.