As humans, we realize that we know nothing of the future explicitly. Of those who devise great plans for the future, the book of James remarks, "You do not know what will happen tomorrow" (Jas 4:13-14). Jesus also teaches us, "Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble" (Mt 6:34). Yet even if today's troubles are enough for today, humanity seems to have an inherent tendency to worry about tomorrow. On the other hand, we cannot take Jesus' statement to mean we cannot even peer into the future. As Christians, we carry a living hope, a hope that cannot die. Our hope lies in the future, so all the limitless potentialities of our dreams and aspirations must also lie in the future. The future is rapidly moving towards us, but at the same time, we race towards the future. Specifically, we must race towards the coming of God's kingdom. This race should not be an exercise in predictions. Rather it must carry a reality on a more personal level. Racing brings a sense of imminence, that we do not have much time; secondly, focusing upon the future forces us to consider who we are and what we are doing in our present lives.
Our Concept of Time
Time is a very important aspect of our social, biological and religious lives. Take, for example, the Sabbath, a concept based in the notion of time. As God's covenant people, we are commanded by Him to remember, observe and keep holy the Sabbath. We often distinguish time in terms of the "sacred" and the "secular." So we think, "Okay, I'll go to church for a few hours today because today is sacred time." When we consider whether to serve God, we think, "I'll work for God later, when my time is near or when the world is about to end." We think this way because we somehow distinguish between "God's time" and "my time." But we have to ask ourselves if this division of time benefits us in any way. For by such labeling of time, God becomes part of our time schedule. We often only look at time from our point of view. How many of us, I wonder, actually consider God's time schedule?
Jesus tells an interesting parable that forces us to reconsider our division of time. He shows us that it is not time in itself that matters, but what we do with our time. It is not so much the division of time, distinguishing between 2000 and 2010 that matters, but what we are going to do between 2000 and 2010. Jesus' parable concerning laborers in the vineyard reveals this principle: "how long" matters less than "what we do." Jesus ends by saying, "So the last will be first, and the first will be last." This statement is a complete reversal of our normal assumptions of order. What we think is important is actually in the last place, while what we feel is insignificant is actually of the first order (Mt 20:1-16). The message is that we need to re-examine our priorities and values.
The Coming Kingdom of God
Many Christians set their hearts upon the material world or material enjoyments. Others have their hearts set upon an "eschatological" time (or end time) when God will punish the wicked. To have our hearts set upon a new age is not contrary to the Bible, for even Jesus stated, "Now when these things [signs] begin to take place, look up, and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near" (Lk 21:28). For a long time, Christians of different stripes have predicted, debated and hypothesized about the end of time. Sadly enough though, while we live in the hope for God's kingdom, we often fail to live up to the principles of the kingdom.
A group of Pharisees once asked Jesus when the kingdom of God was coming. Jesus replied, "The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, 'Lo, here it is!' or 'There!' For, behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you [or within you]" (Lk 17:20-21). We do not have to look anywhere "out there" for the kingdomâ€”rather we must look within and among ourselves. We have to start asking ourselves if we are ready for the kingdom, not whether the kingdom is ready for us. Why do we ask when the kingdom of God is coming if we cannot comply with the principles of that kingdom? If we live as if we are the rulers of our own bodies and as if we control our own destinies, then why do we even to look to the coming of God's kingdom?
We recognize the fallacy of fully believing that we control our own destinies. And we do not have to be Christians to realize this fact. We experience it everyday of our lives. We do not control our own destinies. We wish to get a hundred percent on the test, but we receive a poor score. We hope against hope to make a business deal, but fail at the end. We look around us sometimes and do not see a shining world and smiling faces, but cynicism and smog thick enough to obscure the stars of heaven. Since we do not control our destinies, we need to pay attention to the signs of the times.
Signs of the Times
What is the significance of signs? Jesus once spoke about the signs of the times using the weather as an analogy. He also said to the crowds, "Whenever you see a cloud rising out of the west, immediately you say, 'A shower is coming'; and so it is. And when you see the south wind blow, you say, 'There will be hot weather'; and there is. Hypocrites! You can discern the face of the sky and of the earth, but how is it you do not discern this time?" (Lk 12:54-56). From Jesus' statement we learn that "signs" do not imply good or bad. When we think of signs we often think about the ecological crisis, the increase in earthquakes, and so forth. But actually signs do not, in themselves, forebode trouble. Clouds rising in the west bring rain and can thus be considered a sign of blessing.
So what do signs really tell us? Signs bring a measure of changeâ€”signs are a turning point. Some Pharisees and Sadducees who wished to test Jesus once asked for a sign from heaven. Jesus answered, "When it is evening you say, 'It will be fair weather, for the sky is red'; and in the morning, 'It will be foul weather today, for the sky is red and threatening.' Hypocrites! You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times. A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign shall be given to it except the sign of Jonah" (Mt 16:2-4). So we find that signs, in themselves, do not forebode; rather, they signify a turning point. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees and Sadducees for lacking the discernment to recognize the time, which in Greek is kairos.
The Opportune Time
The word kairos means an opportune time or seasonable time; it is a time that brings something important, an opportunity that should not be missed. In our daily lives, we are often faced with kairos. When we reflect upon our lives, we reminisce how we could have done things differently. We think to ourselves, "If only I had prepared a little harder! I could have done so much better!" We say, "I wish I had gone on that trip. I could have made ten thousand dollars!" We slap ourselves in the face for the opportunities that we have missed. We often see opportunities after they pass, when it's too late. Today, Jesus may be asking you, "I am giving you an opportunity not to be missed. Will you accept it?" Perhaps God has allowed many opportunities, many seasons, to pass before us. Perhaps we have often turned God down, blinded by our own pursuits. I, too, can look back and see past spiritual failures. I, too, can look back with spiritual regrets. In a sense, we are like the Pharisees and Sadducees Jesus addressed. We are often blind to the signs of the times. If God grants us kairos, let us accept it in readiness and humility.
An opportune time is not necessarily a joyous time. When we think of opportune times, we may think of times of "getting lucky," such as winning the lottery. But Jesus must have had quite a different perspective. He understood Himself very well. He knew His mission, and He also knew His times. The Gospel of John often recalls Jesus saying, "My time has not yet come" (Jn 2:4; 7:6, 8, 30). He was very sensitive to the timing of God. He did not fit God into His schedule; rather, He lived and died according to God's schedule. We, too, must learn to understand the nature of our times. It is no longer a time to sleep and carouse. We are warned, "But take heed to yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth" (Lk 21:34-35).
Finally, I want to leave you with a thought about Jesus' perspective of time, a perspective that is probably very different from ours. We like to think of the "good times." We like to dream of unlimited potential in our ambitious future. Sorrowfully, we often meet with the harsh reality of unfulfilled dreams and desires. But Jesus once told His disciples, "With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I will no longer eat of it again until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God" (Lk 22:15-16). We often wonder what opportunities lay ahead of us. Respect? Fame? A great-looking spouse or wonderful family? But Jesus said something that has left a deep impression on me:
He said, "Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, 'The Teacher says, My time is at hand; I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples." (Mt 26:18)
The kairos Jesus looked forward to was not part of a self-seeking ambitious enterprise, but a cup of bitterness. It all fit together to make for kairos. The disciples were listening, a donkey was prepared, a man was willing to lend his house, and a cross was waiting for someone to bear.
May our Lord Jesus help us to recognize our time. And may He grant us the strength of heart to seize hold of the opportunities we often do not wish to grasp. Amen.
Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to goâ€¦ After this He said to him, "Follow Me." (Jn 21:18-19)