Thursday of the Fifth Week of Lent
Ours is a God who waits.
Today’s readings invite me to think about time. The first reading from Genesis is God’s promise to Abram. In these verses Abram becomes transformed/changed into Abraham as God initiates an everlasting covenant with him and his descendants. Yet, a few verses later, Abraham laughs at the news that this promise will actually happen, that he and Sarai, old and childless, will have a son. Laughing here does not mean mocking. Abraham expresses unbelievable and unexplainable joy. Yet God’s wonderful promise does not make sense. As we read on in the next chapters of Genesis, it took Abraham some time to understand, accept, and to grow into faith.
Greg Boyle, SJ, in his popular book Tattoos on the Heart, describes his work with gang members as trusting “in the slow work of God.” He notes, “Ours is a God who waits.” Pope Francis, on several occasions, has described the principle “Time is greater than space.” He notes that time ought not merely be thought of as something that ticks away, something that we are constantly losing. The Holy Father suggests that we think of time in relation to the fullness of reality that always opens up ahead of us and draws us in to it. He writes: “This principle enables us to work slowly but surely, without being obsessed with immediate results…Giving priority to time means being concerned about initiating processes rather than possessing spaces…What we need, then, is to give priority to actions which generate new processes.” Parents, he notes, particularly ought to be aware of this (that is to say, they are to be more like God). Controlling and dominating, he says, is no way to educate. We all most recognize, he says, what St. John Paul II called the “law of gradualness.” Each person “knows, loves, and accomplishes moral good by different stages in growth.”
The second reading, from the Gospel of John, is also about time, but it is not about a timeline, development in time, or about processes in time. It is about the nature of Jesus as the intersection of all time. When Jesus’s people hear his words, they want to stone him for what seems to be great disrespect for God. Jesus says that he knows God. And (seemingly unlike his audience) Jesus says that he follows God’s word. He continues saying that Abraham rejoiced to see this time of Jesus living on earth – the word “rejoice” has historical connections to Abraham’s joyous laughter in the first reading (thus the combination in today’s Mass?). Jesus is saying that Abraham expresses unbelievable and unexplainable joy about his life. How can this be for Abraham was born 18 centuries before Jesus? The people sense then what Jesus is getting at as he, quoting God at the burning bush with Moses, say “I Am.” Jesus is making a claim that he intersects time and is at the same time, in time. He is “with” Abraham and Moses and he is also with his contemporaries in that moment.
This then is a justification for the human experience of the slow work of God and with that the principle for giving priority for time rather than dominating space. Time is not simply about that last moment we will never experience again (nor is it about throwing stones on those who spent that moment poorly), it is about that next moment calling us forward into it – the arm of Jesus reaching out to us, our free response back to Him, and our invitation to others to freely grab hold of our other arm – and in slow motion, Abraham laughing in unbelievable and unexplainable joy.
Dr. Bernard Brady
Chair, Theology Department