Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you (Matthew 5:11-12).
If Jesus arrived on the American scene today, would his teachings and promises draw crowds as they did in Palestine two millennia ago? Would his promises satisfy our yearning? Would we care?
Rather, he invited us to follow him, after which he died. Without a map, only with his elusive post-resurrection presence, we scramble to find his back and navigate our way. And to those who followed, he did not promise protection, but rather this blessing for suffering persecution.
At least that is the way it looks in chronos time, the disinterested tick-tock-tick-tock through the day. It is the only kind of time we moderns recognize, the flat time line broken down into standard units like seconds or years.
Jesus did not live merely in chronos time. He lived in kairos time, that eternal now filling like a jug with life. Neither do we live merely in chronos time. We experience kairos time when someone accepts a marriage proposal, a child is born, or a great insight comes as you gaze prayerfully at the stars on a sleepless night. In those moments, past and future gather up in an eternal now. The experience of this moment colors and shapes all moments past and future.
Kairos time overwhelms us. We cannot measure it. So when those pregnant moments come and go, we flatten or forget them. Especially in our secular age, we keep it simple and quickly go back to chronos. Tick-tock-tick-tock. We fill the moments with noise and move on.
But in the moment on the timeline marked, “Christ,” God gathered the pieces of our lives in an act of making all things new. Christ himself called this newness the Kingdom of God, which had a radical ring in his context.
After all, everyone is homeless in occupied land. The occupied Jews lived in exile in their own country with no say about their destiny. The occupying Romans held the reins there, but far from their home. The empire made its outposts nice places to visit, but nobody really lived there. Promising life under the reign of a merciful God flew in the face of social and political reality. At least it did in chronos time.
And for a while, the people loved his promise of a new kingdom, understood chronos-wise, as the next big event. Even Roman centurions and prominent Pharisees seemed intrigued from time-to-time. But who can bear such hope for very long? Who can stand life in kairos time where the vortex stirred by God’s invisible and creative hand swallows human plans and schemes? Christ promised a Kingdom of God better than we can imagine, more present than we could perceive, and we would rather opt for what we can imagine, what we can see and touch. Such things come in chronos time, which we can more or less manage.
But we do not manage kairos time. It sweeps us up, as occurs when we fall in love. In the ultimate kairos, Jesus rose from the dead and abides with us here and now, something possible only in kairos time that gathers up the tick-tock-tick-tock of his life and ours in a schedule we don’t manage. Like Romans, things work well enough on our calendar despite our homesickness. So we expect things to remain more or less the same like the ticking of the clock. We expect to live without seeing the first become last and the last, first.
Or do we dare hope for more in God’s time?
This post is a modification of one originally published May 4, 2015.