How often have we heard questions regarding time? From youngsters traveling cross country by car asking “Are we there yet,” to people in a hurry often asking for the time. It isn’t difficult to gain the impression that time has become a major source of concern to many.
In fact, the concern for time has become so dominant that we appear to panic if we haven’t completed the tasks expected of us at a given moment. This attitude often results in frustration–or something worse.
Curiously enough, the early Greeks had a way of dealing with this issue. They spoke about two kinds of time. “Chronos” and “Kairos.” “Chronos” (from which we get the word chronology) has to do with clock time. “Kairos” means the critical moment, the time when something special takes place. So, from the understanding of two different types of time, we can better understand the biblical message.
In two of the readings for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Job 7:1-7 and Mark 1:29-39) we note the occurrence of the above stated differences. In the reading from Job we are left with the impression that for the most part, life has its many “moments of misery.” This is because Job seems to be functioning primarily out of “chronos.” All life seems to be the way Job presents it. But it isn’t.
In the Gospel reading from Mark, we notice that Jesus is combining both “chronos” and “kairos” with the latter superseding the former in importance. It is the focus of his attention. Regarding “chronos,” Jesus leaves the synagogue and enters Peter’s house. He approaches Peter’s sick mother-in-law, touches her hand and raises her up. (Anticipation of the resurrection?)
Yet those moments of “chronos” become moments of “kairos.” Why? Because they are critical moments when something special takes place. That is to say that the special moments become expressions of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus heals not only Peter’s mother-in-law but also other people. Jesus also casts out demons. Both gestures are part of his ministry. To legitimate these “kairos” moments, arising out of “chronos” moments, Jesus prayed. This he did because prayer reminded him of his closeness to the Father and the Holy Spirit.
What can we learn from these readings? First of all, we should not see our lives as being totally dominated by “chronos.” This would mean that we would be dependent on outside forces, and our activity would primarily be a reaction to what is happening around us. We would have little or no control of events which, quite likely, can lead to anger, depression, and the like.
Secondly, we should let our lives be totally dominated by “kairos.” That is to say, our actions would be special moments when something significant occurs, namely, our ministry to others: Justice; Compassion; Understanding; Forgiveness. We would be responding to the inside forces of baptismal convictions and prayers. We would choose to be of service, thereby making “kairos” moments out of “chronos” moments. Consequently we would be more in control over events.
Our Baptism reminds us not only to be of service to others, but also of the constant awareness of God’s presence with us–a continuity of the Immanuel (Heb. “God with us”) promise made at Christmas. It is time for us to make “kairos” a significant factor in our lives.