Tempis fugit – As with many Latin phrases which have worked there way into our language as idioms, classicists cringe when we use them in English. “Time flees” has become “Time flies,” and much of the nuance of the idiom is lost. There is no sense of us, as human beings, chasing after, trying to capture, time. Time simply progresses at its fast rate, not flittering before us just out of our reach. It might seem like picking nits, but certainly the distinction was not lost on Jesus as He spoke about time and decisions in our Gospel lesson this week.
Time figures prominently in the larger section which begins with our reading this week and continues all the way to 14:24. Jesus will point out to His audience, and us, that the time is at hand that God is making divisions among the people, between believers and non believers. Jesus will also remind His audience that His ministry is important and signifies that God’s plan of salvation is nearing a time of fulfillment. Finally, Jesus will remind His audience that Israel, as a society, is nearing the time of judgment against it. In other words, it is time for a decision, a decision which will have lasting consequences both for those who decided to follow Him and for those who reject Him.
Naturally, our section this week is more concerned with the time of individual decision. Jesus knows that His very presence, His ministry, and His work point to a coming division. Families will be divided against each other because of Him. For those who like to think of Jesus as an itinerant hippie who liked a good party, such an observation might be confusing or out of place. Similarly, for those among us who buy into the idea of religious pluralism (the idea that all religions lead to God or that everybody's faith is as truthful as everyone else's, Jesus' statement might seem somewhat out of place. Why force anyone to decide? Why not let everyone get along?
But part of Jesus’ ministry is to force people to make a decision either for or against God. Israel has, to put it mildly, floundered in its calling to be a nation of priests to Yahweh. Whenever the opportunity presented itself for them to go astray, Israel seems to have been uncanny in its ability to forget the teachings of God. Modern human beings have fared little better. We have tried hard to ignore the accountability we have to God for our sin. We have tried even to lessen the importance of sin in our lives by declaring ourselves “basically good.” Yet "basically good" would never have required Him to die on the cross. "Basically good" would never have left us seemingly without hope. And so, as with countless generations, we have overlooked the grace of God in our lives, in the lives of others, and in the world.
But the cross, from Jesus’ perspective this week, is right around the corner. Soon, He will die, and people must make a decision. You and I, living on this side of the empty tomb, know the horror and love of the cross and power and joy of the Resurrection. Do we accept His offer of salvation and live a life of servant ministry? Or do we ignore His offer and, instead, embrace death? That decision is ever before us and all those whom we encounter in our daily life and work. Sometimes we might like to think we have all the time in the world to make that decision. We might be procrastinators, we might hate to make decisions, we might be like St. Augustine (Lord, save me, just not today, please); we just might not like the choice we have to make. There are consequences to our decision. If we reject Him, we can live as we see fit. But if we embrace Him, we accept a life of servant ministry. Decisions, decisions. . .
The truth is, with so many consequences, it is no small wonder that we think we have forever to make our decision. No doubt many of us hope to be able to have time to make the correct decisions on our deathbeds, but such an opportunity is never guaranteed. Far too often, lives are snuffed out far too quickly and far before their time. We persist in our unwillingness to decide, and we delight in that seeming refusal to decide. We hope we still have time. Yet, like Israel which could forecast the weather, we can forecast the end times. We live in an age of wars and rumors of wars, of droughts and hunger, of disease and pestilence, and of earthquakes and floods all around us. Like Israel, we can see clouds or feel the wind and accurately forecast the weather. Why then do we continue to ignore the signs He gave us regard His return? Is it the nearly 2000 years since He walked the earth, died, was raised, and ascended to heaven? Is it the divisions that are caused by choosing to follow Him? Why do we continue to act graciously without urgency? Why do we continue to act and witness that there is no hurry, that we all have lots of time? Why do we fail to act like the gardener in the parable, who tends his tree urgently, certain that it will be cut down if the tree bears no fruit when next the master returns? Yes, God is patient; all of Scripture reminds us of that. But interspersed among many of those stories is an urgency conveyed to His people, and urgency which impels them and us to share His story, share His love, with as many people as possible, knowing that His patience and our time to reach them is running out.