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The Time is fulfilled

“The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has come near”

I imagine 1st-century fishing nets needed to be repaired quite frequently. Not that I know anything about fishing, 1st-century or otherwise. But I would guess that modern fishing nets made of synthetic materials are a lot stronger and therefore less likely to break than their 1st-century counterparts. So James and John, mending their nets, would have been doing something they did quite often, maybe every day. And Jesus, when he met them, would have been meeting them “at their place of work”, to use the contemporary phrase. 

When I was looking over this gospel passage the other day, I found myself feeling slightly amused by the thought of Jesus coming to meet me at my place of work. As some of you will know, up until a few months ago, I was working in an office not far from here. And I imagined what it would be like for Jesus to visit me at work. The chances are he’d have found me a lot less accessible that James and John were. 

For a start he’d have to explain to the staff on reception who he was, who it was he wanted to see and for what purpose and say whether or not he had an appointment. He’d then be issued with a visitor’s pass in a clear plastic holder, which he would be required wear at all times during his visit in a clearly visible place on his outer garment. And he’d then be directed to the row of three lifts, at least one of which would be out of order. Having finally arrived at my section – assuming of course that he’d gone to the right floor – he’d be given directions to the desk at which I sat, only to be told when he got there that I didn’t sit at that desk anymore.

Well, maybe things weren’t that bad in my office. But I do suspect that, having located me, he would then have come up against the biggest obstacle of all. Time. I can just hear myself saying, Sorry, I really haven’t got time to see you at the moment. It’s Monday morning and I’ve got all these emails to sort through. And a report to write. And a spreadsheet to run off.

Time is a very mysterious thing. We behave as if we’re somehow in charge of it. We wear watches and keep looking at clocks to check on it. And we keep telling each other what time it is. But somehow we can’t avoid the uncomfortable feeling that time is in charge of us. Think of the guilt and the anxiety we feel if we’re ever late for something, even if it’s not our fault. There’s so much time available to us. Each day has no less than twenty-four hours in it. Do you ever think about that? Yet we constantly feel that we haven’t got enough time.

In Greek, there are 2 words for time: chronos, from which, of course, we get “chronology” and “chronometer”. Chronos has the sense of the passage of time, time which just goes on and on. Time we’ve never got enough of. And the other Greek word for time is kairos. Kairos has a slightly different meaning. It means time which is in some way significant, which carries importance of some kind; time which doesn’t just go on and on, but which is measured because it has a goal and a purpose. And when in today’s gospel Jesus says, The time is fulfilled and the Kingdom of God has come near, the word is kairos. 

The gospel message is that the Kingdom of God has come near. God and the things of God are no longer distant, beyond our experience, objects of pious speculation. God has come near to us. In Christ he has reached out to us. And he invites us to live in his Kingdom.

It’s very significant that Our Lord went to meet James and John and Simon and Andrew at their place of work. A very large part of our life is spent working at some task or other. Jesus met them as the people they were, doing the things they did. And in the same way, the Kingdom of God embraces all that we are and all that we do. It shapes our values and our whole outlook on life. It changes the way we see our work or our day-to-day occupation, whatever that may be. It helps us see the contribution we make to the lives of those close to us and the communities in which we live.  

Our belief in the Kingdom of God should also make us look very closely at the way work and different kinds of work are perceived in our society, and particularly the way in which some jobs are relegated to the very bottom of the scale of importance. I’ll always remember the way in which my late mother-in-law in her final years was looked after at home by carers who came in three times a day. They cared for her in very practical ways, maintaining her quality of life and doing things for her which I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to do. And meanwhile they kept up cheerful conversation; and when they’d finished, they went off to do the same for someone else, and someone else after that. If I had my way, these would be the people on six-figure salaries with million pound bonuses. 

Because we are disciples of Christ and live in God’s Kingdom, we cannot look the other way in the face of injustice and pretend that we haven’t seen it. We cannot cynically shrug our shoulders and say, That’s the way the world is, when we hear about deprivation and the conflicts and the suffering which arise out of it in different parts of the world. We have somehow got to register our protest, and pray and work for something better.

The time is fulfilled. You could almost say the time’s up. That wouldn’t be putting it too strongly. It’s time to realise the seriousness of Christ’s call to discipleship and the seriousness of being a disciple of Christ. It’s time to stop seeing our life in separate compartments and to see it instead as one whole, given us by God. It’s time to understand the importance of giving thanks to God and the transforming effect this has on us. It’s no coincidence that the central act of the Church’s worship is the Eucharist, thanksgiving. It’s what we do and it’s what we are. And it’s time to apply the things we believe in to the situations of life – redemption, forgiveness, salvation, healing, mercy, compassion.

In the days ahead we’ll all have nets to mend. Demands on our time and energy. People who need us. Things we’d like to put off but can’t. Expectations to meet. Goals to achieve. Good intentions to put into practice. The important thing to remember is that these are precisely the situations in which Christ calls us to follow him.

Epiphany 3 MMXV CHS