According to the Gospel of Mark, the first words of Jesus’ first sermon had to do with time: “The time is fulfilled.” He meant, in part, that time was up. There was a note of compelling urgency in his words—of impending crisis and approaching judgment. Time was running out and winding down. Whatever men and women were going to do about their lives they needed to do quickly, because the opportunity to act was about to be taken from them. At the longest, we are given a mere handful of days, and we live in a wonderful but precarious world where crisis can brew and rage as quickly and dangerously as a storm. Whatever we intend to do with and about our lives, the time is now, because time is nearly up.
In John Steinbeck’s novel Sweet Thursday, there is a character named Doc, who has a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, and who makes a living in Monterey by collecting marine specimens from the tide pools and selling them. Doc enjoys his life, but he’s aware of the ticking of the clock and the turning of the pages of the calendar:
The end of life is now not so terribly far away—you can see it in the way you see the finish line when you come into the home stretch—and your mind says, “Have I worked enough? Have I eaten enough? Have I loved enough?” All of these, of course, are the foundations of man’s greatest curse, and perhaps his greatest glory. “What has my life meant so far, and what can it mean in the time left to me?” And now we’re coming to the wicked, poisoned dart: What have I contributed to the Great Ledger? What am I worth? (Penguin Books, p. 22.)
Doc’s question is a good one: “What has my life meant so far, and what can it mean in the time left to me?” When we ask those kinds of questions, we realize the wisdom and challenge in Jesus’ words, “The time is fulfilled.” Time’s nearly up. So, it’s time for you and me to get on with it: to take the hard decision, to make the difficult choice, to let go of the past, to embrace the future, and to live in the here and now the life we know, somewhere deep inside, we were meant to live. It’s time to look in the mirror and to be honest about what we see there, to admit our failures, to acknowledge our disappointments, to name our wounds, to celebrate our victories, to claim our strengths, to grieve our losses, and to give thanks for our gifts. It’s time to look into the eyes of Jesus and be hopeful about we see there: the love he has for us, just as we are, the compassion he has for our brokenness, and the hope he has for us and for the world.
When Jesus said, “the time is fulfilled” he also meant that the time was full of possibility. As you know, in the language of the New Testament, there are two words for time. One of those words describes clock and calendar time—the relentless wearing away of the hours, the ceaseless succession of one day after another, and the tireless passing of year after year. There is nothing to hope for in this kind of time; time is dreary and empty, and life is just one routine and dull thing after another. As the writer of Ecclesiastes once said: “All things are wearisome; more than anyone can express; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, or the ear with hearing. What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun.”
There is, though, another word for time, and it is the one Jesus used when he said, “The time is fulfilled.” It is the word for a season of harvest and fruitfulness; it speaks of opportunity and welcome and bears witness to the new and unexpected. It is time ripe with vitality, permeated with promise, and fresh with creativity.. When Jesus said “the time is fulfilled,” he meant that it was a season laden with potentiality and pregnant with possibility. He meant that the time is right and the time is now to make the changes we want and need to make in our lives. What we couldn’t believe was possible before seems possible now.
It’s possible, because, as Jesus went on to promise, “the kingdom of God has come near.” Jesus has brought the kingdom of God close to us, so close that it is possible for us to live in it, to experience it, and to draw strength and courage from it, even while we still live, simultaneously, in the kingdoms of this world. The kingdom of God exists wherever we acknowledge God’s authority and do God’s will. The realm of God is that place just beyond every place where peace and justice embrace, where the lion and the lamb lie safely together, where the hungry sit down to a feast, and the oppressed lose their chains. It where life is ordered and shaped by the ways of Jesus—where the lonely are invited to the party, where the weak find strength, and where the sinner finds mercy. In Jesus, that wondrous, peaceable kingdom of God has come into history. It is near to us: all we have to do is open our hearts to receive and experience it and reach out to welcome and embrace it. In the energy and strength, courage and passion of God’s will and way—in the kingdom of God—we become what God meant us to be; we do what God meant us to do. Jesus has brought that kingdom near to us, so near that the time is right and the time is now for us to do what we most need to do.