3rd Sunday of the year Cycle B
If today you hear His voice ……
The Church regularly prays this line from the Old Testament at the very beginning of her divine office offered on behalf of the whole Church. It is, in a real sense, a consecration of time, the time of that day, made on behalf of the Church to Almighty God. It is a kind of “uplink,” as we might say in this age of global communications, between time and eternity, between this passing world and the world that never ends. It is this prayerful intention and connection that gives meaning and value to the time of this day, and of every day. Without this uplink, time remains just time, ephemeral, passing, without any ultimate meaning or purpose, a cause of profound restlessness in the human heart, which is itself a kind of time machine that needs a reference outside of this world to be at home in this world.
Time is part of the great mystery of man and creation. What is time? What is it’s meaning for man’s existence other than simply a measure of his passage through this world, the duration of his passing life? These questions are not just questions for a religious man, but for every man, and great philosophers and poets as well as men of faith have tried to penetrate this aspect of the mystery of creation and human existence. Modern science can offer no satisfying answers to such questions because its methodology restricts it to purely empirical realities, extrinsic aspects of the physical world. For science, then, time is simply a pure mathematical aspect of material beings, a measure of change, and whatever. In itself, time has no deeper meaning for the scientist, and it is reduced to something purely relative to the material universe. Understanding the inner meaning of time has to be left to other sources of human understanding, to religion, to philosophers, to poets, to the soul of man.
Of course, while science as such has made many positive contributions to man’s physical well-being, including its discoveries related to time and space, such as their apparent limitless character, these discoveries have had another negative effect tending to disorient if not displace the human person, that is, to leave man without a deeper sense of place and time. This disorientation of man in space and time is also due to pseudo-scientific claims of many scientists that their scientific knowledge has displaced God from his universe. This atheistic bent of many modern scientists is perhaps the primary cause of man’s own sense of being lost in the cosmos, with no place as his own, and with no understanding of time that can leave him anything but perpetually restless. When God and eternity are displaced from man’s world, man is the truly displaced, lost in this cosmos, a victim because he has lost a sense of being at home in his world.
The readings today all have an aspect of time involved, and all speak of the mystery of time and its resolution in man’s relation to God and eternity. The first reading speaks about the 40 days Nineveh has to repent for its offenses against God. The second reading seems like Paul is trying to freeze time in telling his converts not to change anything essential in their lives while waiting for the Lord to return. The Gospel presents Jesus’ calling of the first apostles, who must lose no time in responding; they must leave everything at once and follow him.
In each case, an element of time is involved, and in each case that element is being determined in its meaning and importance by its reference to God and eternity, and to some action of God in relation to man. In each case the weight, the importance and ultimate meaning of that element of time is being determined by its reference to something which is at least a-temporal, ultimately something which is eternal. In the first case, the 40 days are related to retribution which will come from beyond time, and it provides a “space” of time where man is free to rectify his life to avoid that retribution.
In the second case, St. Paul now sees time in a completely different perspective in view of the Incarnation and Parousia. Time is “shortened” that is time is now the measure of a passing world, not an endless cycle of existence the pagans have always understood it to be, but a limited and specific measure of a world that is passing away, and simultaneously being reborn, and all of this due solely to Christ’s redemptive activity. The old world of sin and death is passing away, and the new world is being born and will be suddenly brought to its maturation, its fulness, when Christ returns in glory. Thus, Paul’s conclusion is that faith must now relate every moment of this life to its ultimate reference point and source of meaning, an that reference point and source of meaning is not a thing, but a person, Jesus Christ. Time is given an eternal reference.
Finally, in the Gospel, Jesus begins his public mission and preaching by making a specific reference to time and eternity: “This is the time of fulfillment. The reign of God is at hand, reform your lives and believe in the Gospel.” The penetration of time and history by God’s incarnation marks a dramatic change also in the meaning and value of time as such. His arrival causes time to arrive at the fulness of its meaning. From this point forward, time will be referenced to his coming, either the period of preparation for his first coming – BC – or the period that follows from that coming and in turn is the period of preparation for his second coming – AD.
These two reference points of time are what determines the ultimate meaning of time and history for man and his existence in this world. Because of Jesus’ coming into the world, and the absolute or eternal consequences His coming has for the life and destiny of every human person, every moment of time takes on a weight, an importance and a meaning that it would otherwise never have had. This moment here and now, this very moment of time becomes loaded with eternal weight: “if today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts” because his call in this moment, every moment and my response to that call is what determines my eternal standing before God, determines my eternity.
Surely this is the meaning of the passage where Christ calls the apostles and they immediately respond. In that very moment, they leave all behind and follow Christ. That was their moment of vocation, and they had to respond generously at that moment as if it were the only moment they ever would have, and thus time stood still and the eternal became present in that moment in a way that we can barely understand. Every moment that is approached in this way becomes weighted with eternal meaning and consequence, and that moment will never occur again. In that moment God has called, has entered into man’s temporality, and has weighted that temporality with his own eternity.
Thus, every Christian who lives a life of faith in the Son of God lives in a new relation to time and place. Time is not emptied of importance in the light of man’s eternal destiny, but is weighted with that very eternity. Every moment takes on the value of the eternal when it is lived in view of man’s relation to God.
That is why the Christian paradoxically is at home in this world precisely to the degree that he believes he has no final home here. The Christian is less restless than the man for whom this world is seen as his only and final home. For such a man, time rushes past as his time runs out, slowly at first and more quickly as he ages.
But for the Christian, he already lives in the eternal, and each moment possesses something of the timelessness of eternity. His life is lived in the presence of God, and therefore in the present, the now … If today you hear his voice… the present becoming simply a dimension of the eternal. The unbeliever says live every moment to the full because it may be your last – and that empties that very moment of any real meaning. The Christian says live every moment as a moment of eternity, and it becomes loaded with the meaning and value of the eternal. Paradoxically, the believing Christian is at home in he world, is at ease in his place, because the world is not his true home and time is not simply a measure of change. The follower of Christ already lives simultaneously in eternity and in every moment of time to the full.