Monday, 5 July 2010

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

We are led to believe that Luke’s Gospel portrays a Christ who is gentle and inclusive; someone whose philosophy of life resembles ours. For example, women feature prominently in Christ’s life and ministry. Furthermore, for Luke, there is an emphasis on the humanity of Christ because He shows great compassion for sinners and for those who are suffering.

But, look at last week’s Gospel and again this week’s. You will encounter a stern picture of Christ. He sounded harsh last week and this week He tells His disciples not to carry any haversack, purse or sandals. Compare the same sending today found in Mark’s Gospel. In Mark’s Gospel, the sent disciples were afforded the luxury of a staff or a stick. Luke’s gentle Jesus does not look so gentle after all.

In order to understand Luke’s particular portrait of Christ we need to appreciate the numbered days of Christ. Last week, we heard that He resolutely set His face for Jerusalem. Luke’s theology of mission focuses on Jerusalem as the centre for the Acts of the Apostles. Without Jerusalem, there would be no Acts. Thus, this sending out of the 72 is a preamble to the future radiation of disciples from Jerusalem to the ends of the world.

This hardened image of Christ can be explained by the urgency of the mission. To understand why the mission is urgent let us look at our understanding of time. Our conception of time is linear or sequential. According to the Greeks it is chronos. In general, life is governed by chronos. There is an inevitable and quantitative sequence to it. Time is measured by its passage—past, present and future. However, the mission for Christ is set in kairos which is qualitative rather than quantitative, meaning to say that it is not about the passage of time but rather about the decision to be made. Jerusalem represents the decision for salvation—ours and the world's. Christ embraces death there in Jerusalem and in that decision, salvation is won for us and for the world. The fruit of Christ’s decision is the Acts of the Apostles as it details the disciples bringing Christ’s salvation to the ends of the world.

The interplay between time experienced as chronos and time experienced as kairos may help us to understand the theme of discipleship according to Luke.

Ordinarily, we conceive of life in a chronological sense because we experience it as such. For example, there is a natural flow of life from beginning to the end. In fact, the pathway of life is often shaped like a roof—like an inverted V. You grow old and then you decline… Such a notion of life gives rise to the saying, “going downhill” meaning that there is a cut-off point where one grows up to and after that it is downhill all the way.

But, this is what I tell people at funerals. Thinking that life is solely chronological is falsely optimistic. Why? Every breath you take, takes you closer to your grave and therefore a baby born, full of life, full of future ahead, as you can witness its growth, etc. is already on the way to death. Heidegger says it quite well: “We are beings unto death”. This is where kairos becomes important. It is not the quantity of time but rather the quality of time because in kairos, there is an intersection between eternity and chronological time. Thus, the urgency of Jerusalem represents the Father’s will waiting to be done and the time is “now” and not later. Christ has to make the decision now for Jerusalem.

It is true that many of our decisions are made in chronological time but chronos gives us a false sense of invincibility—that we are in control of time. We seem to live forever. For example, the average life expectancy is 82 years. I am only 28 and according to the average, I have 54 years more to catch up with what I am supposed to do if I follow the quantitative passage of time. Remember the man with his barn? He had so much he tells himself that he will build a bigger barn to store his grains and then he will begin to enjoy himself. What was Christ’s response? “Tonight a reckoning is made for your life”. In the Gospel, when Christ asked the disciples to take no haversack, no purse and no sandals, He was asking them to live in readiness for kairos because kairos was possible only where there was vulnerability. How can we embrace the unexpected in life if we were not vulnerable? Conventional wisdom teaches that only when we are “secure” can we face the unexpected. But “to prepare myself so that I can face the difficulties of life” is thinking according to chronological time like the man and his barn. We assume that there is going to be a time when one will be ready. And today’s young people are like that. It explains why they marry late not just because they fear commitment but because there is this misguided notion that one has to have a condo, a car and a stash of cash before one can face life. There is a chronological sequence to this major decision called settling down. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. It is when we have too much that we become inflexible. Is that not true? If you have 13 handbags and 27 pairs of shoes, the permutation of handbags and shoes, that is, the combination increases and a lot more time is spent trying to match them. 1 bag can be paired with 27 pairs of shoes. Now you can see the practical implication of Christ’s command lived out in some religious sisters’ life. One type of habit and it is the same every day. No need to waste chronological time so that she may be open to kairos.

The thing about discipleship is that the more we have, the more encumbered we may be and the less will kairos be possible or the less attentive we will be to God’s will. God’s will has a greater difficulty in intersecting our time. It is harder to embrace God unexpectedly calling us in life if we continue to hang on to our securities.

The Gospel sounds like it is out of touch with our demography—many of us have more than two cars, sometimes a few houses, etc. and so the Gospel sounds like an impossibility. Read the Gospel to the end. The disciples came back rejoicing. Clinging on to our haversack, our purse and sandals may just postpone the joy that comes with the Gospel and the peace that comes with discipleship.

Finally, no haversack, no purse and no sandal is not a condemnation of possessions or status. Our Lord is indicating for us that discipleship requires that one’s life is hung between chronos and kairos. One lives in chronological time but one is opened to kairos. God’s kairos enters our lives better when we are less encumbered. Discipleship is easier when we have fewer attachments to carry.