Today’s readings show us different responses to God’s call and what is possible when we are working in God’s time (Kairos) rather than ordinary times (Chronos).
Jonah was one of the minor prophets in the Old Testament. His story has been considered a metaphor and even satirical and not necessarily a true historical record.
He was given an impossible task. Jonah was called by God to be a prophet to the city of Nineveh. Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai, saying, Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.
Nineveh was one of the greatest cities of its day. It was a city of conquerors, with a strong commercial base, superior technology and a powerful war machine. Jonah was from a strip of wilderness and he had no credentials for such an act of international diplomacy. You might imagine yourself like Jonah being sent to the Sudan where the government is perpetuating a genocide of Christians in the southern area. You might imagine telling them that they are doomed unless they repent, stop the genocide, hold democratic elections and use their wealth for the good of all the nation’s people. Or you might imagine God sending you to speak to Scott Morrison and tell him that he and his government will face destruction if they do not repent and change their policies in relation to refugees, the Environment, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and the economy. I can see myself following Jonah’s footstep and saying that is an impossible task, I am not going to do that.
Jonah is maybe like a lot of us. He has ideals and gives them up because he cannot see a way of achieving them. We may believe in the value of caring for the community, compassion and following Jesus. We might become discouraged and give up when we cannot see how we can make a difference and settle for what we can get. We might settle for carving out our own niche of happiness and be content with the new car, the comfortable home, the holiday and reasonable relationships.
Jonah instead of going east to Nineveh, gets on a boat and goes west, as far away as he can from the call. His epic adventure, worthy of the Odyssey, includes being thrown overboard from a ship; swallowed by a whale and finally agreeing to preach to the people of Nineveh. And now Jonah is working in God’s time (Kairos) and the people of Nineveh repent and are spared God’s wrath. A remarkable outcome for one or two sermons.
We see quite a different response in Mark’s gospel. Mark is considered to be the earliest gospel that tells us about the life of Jesus. Mark is very concise, and his writing is action oriented. The Gospel was written during a time of crisis. Israel was under Roman occupation and some people hoped that the Messiah would come and free them from the Romans and restore God’s Kingdom and Israel’s independence.
Mark starts his gospel with John the Baptist proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, followed by the baptism of Jesus and his temptation in the wilderness. Today’s reading begins with the first days of Jesus Galilean Ministry: Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God,and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.
It is obviously a troubled time because John has just been arrested. Jesus is fully equipped for his Ministry of proclaiming the kingdom of God. He has been through a powerful religious experience. He was anointed by the Spirit and declared the Beloved Son of God. Jesus summarises his message in four short phrases: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the Good News.”
What makes this particular moment the right time, kairotic time, the time of fullness and God’s presence and promise? No doubt there are numerous possible answers, including of course that it was all ordained by God.
First, it is a time of crisis. Israel has been living under the oppression of the Romans for some time. There is also an internal crisis, because the government of Herod is self-interested and co-operating with and profiting from the Roman occupation. John the Baptist was imprisoned because he had rebuked Herod for marrying Herodias, the ex-wife of his brother. And it may not be an accident that this crisis is what propels Jesus into action.
Second, Jesus has received God’s blessing and his identity via his baptism. And so, confident that God is present, active, and with him, he announces God is coming, His impending kingdom and calls for the corresponding action and response of believing the good news and repentance – a Greek word that is less about apologizing or confessing sin than it is about being arrested in place and turning toward a new direction.
Third, Jesus finds a willing, even eager audience of people willing to follow. Jesus calls the future disciples. They stop what they are doing and follow him. Jesus expects a radical response. The two sets of brothers turn their life around and respond with a new binding commitment to Jesus.
Mark does not tell us about the inner processes of the new disciples. Perhaps the message of good news and fulfillment he offered was so compelling that Simon and Andrew and then James and John cannot but help themselves and drop everything to follow Jesus. Perhaps they had a direct message from God and they were able to respond with this newfound faith.
Perhaps, Luke in his gospel, tells us more of the details. Simon Peter had a lot of experience with Jesus including when Jesus visited his house and healed his mother-in-law. The future disciples would have heard and seen Jesus preaching and healing. One night Jesus preached from Simon Peters boat. The disciples had been up all night and had not caught a single fish. Jesus told them where to fish and their nets were so full that they nearly could not hold the catch. In this case we are talking about a gradual development of trust in and love for Jesus. Jesus called his disciples and they committed themselves to follow him.
I think it hardly matters whether this was a spontaneous response or gradual coming to trust Jesus. What matters is that they hear the good news and believe it, not in the sense of mere intellectual assent but rather in that it creates in them a measure of trust and hope that moves them forward into an active and committed response.
Hence there are least three ingredients that lead to the right time – crisis, confidence and commitment.
And maybe this relates to our time at the beginning of 2021. We are certainly in a time of crisis. The Covid pandemic is claiming many lives in the world and is threatening to overwhelm and/or shut down health systems. Lots of people experience economic hardship, uncertainty, violence, painful racial injustice and continued ecological devastation.
We certainly can have confidence in Jesus message: “The time has come. The Kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” And I know you have followed His path where he calls us to: “Love your neighbour as yourself. Feed the hungry, house the homeless as you have done it to me. Abide in my love and I will abide in you. You are the light of the world, so let your light shine before all so that they may see the glory of God. The reign of God is among you, within you. If you have faith, the mountain shall be moved for you.”
So, the question remains what type of commitment can you make in 2021? You most likely have repented in the past and chosen to change your life and made a commitment to Jesus.
Maybe now we are at another stage in our lives and issues look different and we may need to decide if this is still a decision we want to live by? Maybe we need to ask what is so good about the news Jesus proclaims that we would choose to immerse ourselves in his life and turn our backs on everything that seems relevant and promising in the life of the modern world?
Maybe your life is so good that you have the experience of total fulfilment and you know you can have it all without committing yourself to following Jesus. Maybe pursuing pleasure and excitement and avoiding pain and discomfort does lead to lasting joy and freedom and integrity for you. And maybe you can live with the anxiety of profiting from an economic boom built on the rape of the planet and the plundering of the poor.
Somehow, I believe that we hear and see Jesus inviting us to follow him even so this may be hard, and we may have to give up something along the way.
God sees us as worthy of God’s attention, as capable of great things, as called and equipped to be Jesus’ disciples in this new and challenging 2021. A year, we might remind ourselves, that whatever difficulties it may present, is still a year anno domini “the year of our Lord” 2021.
And with that call and invitation, perhaps we will be renewed in our confidence that God is working through us to care for and bless God’s world and people. And we might respond like Peter did: “O Master, now that we have seen you, where else can we go?” How could we not also follow?
Written by Dorothea Wojnar
Dorothea Wojnar is an elder, worship leader and preacher at TUC. She has a deep interest in meditative and contemplative worship. In addition to her roles at TUC, Dorothea is a member of presbytery and a member of its Pastoral Relations Committee.More from Dorothea Wojnar