Did you notice that our readings today all relate to time, or perhaps more specifically, to the passage of time? Of course, at my age – and I suspect more than a few of you share that particular demographic – the passage of time is very evident.
When we were children time crept by, carrying us slowly and deliberately through our young lives. And what a blessing this was! That movement of time let us anticipate and savor the good things of life – to observe, to learn, and to absorb all that we encountered. It also let us distance ourselves from the not so good.
Years ago, Diane and I took foster children into our home – children who often came from difficult family situations. But, amazingly, regardless of the tumult and confusion they had endured, these little ones were able to set it aside. Moved by the love they had for their parents, their fervent hope was to return, to return to a renewed family where all would be set right. One need only look at a child to see the true manifestation of hope as a virtue.
But then, as we age, time seems to move along far more quickly, doesn’t it? It hurries us through our days, pushing us relentlessly to the very culmination of our lives. It’s as if time, like today’s readings, pleads with us, reminding us that we cannot bargain with it; and that for each life, time has a definite limit. And it’s a limit that can come on quickly.
In our second reading St. Paul doesn’t pull any punches, but comes right out and tells the Corinthians and us that, “time is running out…the world in its present form is passing away” [1 Cor 7: 29.31]. Paul wants us to be ready, to prepare for that which is to come, to prepare for God’s transformation of the world, and to prepare for judgment. We are, then, called to prepare – not by our own power, but by God’s gift of grace, through which He comes to us.
Yes, God comes to us. He comes to us here in His Word, proclaimed in our hearing, and entering into our minds and hearts. He comes to us in the Eucharist, joining our very being with His body and blood, soul and divinity, and joining us to one another in this shared Communion. Through the Eucharist each one of us becomes a God-bearer, called to take Jesus Christ to others. And so He comes to us, too, when we encounter Him daily in each other and in His least brothers and sisters: in those in need of God’s love who turn to us in expectation, in hope. Do you see Christ in them? And do they experience Christ in you?
God encounters us in all the times of our lives, preparing us by His gift of faith freely offered. How foolish to ignore these encounters. And yet so many of us do just that when we make the mistake of thinking that the little slice of time we’ve been given belongs to us.
The apostles didn’t make that mistake. They had encountered Jesus in the flesh – hearing, seeing, touching Him – and realized that they had been called, called in God’s time, not theirs. They had no time to do anything but drop their nets, turn away from their former lives, and follow Jesus. They didn’t fully understand it, but moved by the Spirit, they knew it was a special time.
|"Follow me and I will make you fishers of men."|
Indeed, in that same brief Gospel passage from Mark, we find Jesus beginning His public ministry with the words, “This is the time of fulfillment” [Mk 1:15]. Here is Jesus, the Lord of History, standing at the very center of all time bringing everything that went before to fulfillment – a most special time. The very thought of the Incarnation, God’s thought, was made outside of time itself, in eternity. But with His coming, all has changed.
The time of the Old Covenant has passed. It is no longer present, but has been fulfilled. Yes, Jesus tells us, all of time that came before, every moment from the creation of time itself out of eternity, is brought to completion. His coming has thrust us into His time; and Jesus, our God become man, is now ever-present. We are in the midst of His time.
It is God’s time, for Jesus goes on to tell us: “The Kingdom of God is at hand” [Mk 1:15]. To be sure, then, this fulfillment of time also means the presence of the Kingdom, the time of the Kingdom of the Father. But other than this, Jesus really tells us very little about this time, or what we can expect as it unfolds. He tells us only that God has acted and has fulfilled all.
But then, continuing His teaching at that first moment of His ministry, Jesus commands us to act as well – for we must do our part. “Repent,” Jesus commands, “and believe in the Gospel” [Mk 1:15]. Instead of telling us what we can expect, Jesus tells us what God expects of us. First, we are to repent. Translated from the Greek, metanoia, it means a change of mind and heart. Combining time and change, repentance calls us to look back, if only to acknowledge the sinfulness of our lives; but then, filled with hope, to look forward to conversion and to the joy of the Good News.
Do you see what God desires of us? He calls us to believe, to accept the Gospel, the Good News, in faith. And because the Good News is so very good, we should greet it with joy. But He doesn’t want us to come to Him only in the joy of the Good News. Yes, His sacrifice on the Cross certainly brings us redemption, and this must be a source of tremendous joy for all of humanity. But first, He tells us, first we must repent and follow the path of conversion. Only then, with our minds and hearts turned toward God, can we experience the surprising joy of the Good News.
Brothers and sisters, Jesus addressed these words to the people of Galilee who gathered around Him that day. He spoke to each one of them, personally, individually, calling them by name, calling them to accept His gift of faith, calling them to repentance, conversion, and joy. And He speaks this same message to each us as well; for we, too, are called. And as Paul reminds us, “time is running out.”
Are we like the people of Nineveh? Like all of us they needed to repent. They had turned from God…until He placed the ultimatum before them. When God set a 40-day limit to their lives, when they heard Jonah’s message, the message of a most reluctant prophet, they realized their time was running out. But they didn’t wait, did they? -- not for a moment. No, they acknowledged their sins, turned to God in repentance, and He lifted the dire sentence He had placed on them. They responded to their salvation with joy.
Repentance, conversion, and joy. Are we like the Ninevites? Is our time, too, running out?
People move here to our little corner of the world to have the time of their lives, don’t they? But all too often they forget that the time of their lives is coming all too quickly to an end. Christ’s message, then, is one of urgency. It’s a message that demands an answer. To put it off is to run the risk of missing the coming of the Kingdom into your life. In the words of St. Augustine: "God has promised forgiveness to your repentance, but He has not promised tomorrow to your procrastination."
This Gospel message is for every person, for every single one of us, for all of humanity stretched out over the entire span of time. It’s a message aimed directly at the heart, at your heart and mine, for we are loved. God marks each of us for repentance and for the joy that follows.
Brothers and sisters, believe in the Good News of Jesus Christ, the salvation He offers us, and live that belief in lives that glorify God. Then, and only then, can we truly have the time of our lives.