Friday, September 26, 2008

Friday in the 25th Week of Ordinary Time
Telling Time

Readings: Ecclesiastes 3:1-11; Psalms 144:1b and 2abc, 3-4; Luke 9:18-22
Picture: CC littledan77

Have you ever had the following experience? For some reason you suddenly awaken with a jolt after a good night’s sleep. Still a little drowsy, you reach for the bedside clock and find that you’re already 15 to 30 minutes behind your usual schedule. Hurriedly you scramble out of bed and proceed with the routine morning ablutions. But when you’re done and finally get a chance to look at the clock again, you realize that you’re actually a whole hour ahead of schedule. You’d earlier misread the time. Feeling rather bemused and even a little foolish and embarrassed, you wonder what you’re going to do now.

Ever had a similar experience? Or some other experience of getting the time wrong?

I wonder if the disciples found themselves in a similar situation in our gospel today. The incident described is probably very familiar to us. It is found also in the gospels of Matthew (16:13ff.) and Mark (8:27ff.). But notice how, in Luke’s version, Jesus’ immediate response to the disciples’ declaration that he is the Christ of God is to rebuke them. Unlike Matthew’s version, there is no praise of Peter for getting the answer right. But didn’t they get the answer right? Isn’t Jesus indeed the Christ, the anointed one, of God? Why the rebuke? And why so soon? Perhaps it had something to do with timing. Perhaps the disciples were jumping the gun in thinking only about the glory of the anointed one, without giving due consideration to the lesson that Jesus goes on to teach them – that the Christ must first endure a time of trial.

But, what next? After having gotten the time wrong, what are the disciples to do now? What are we to do when we find ourselves getting the time wrong? How do we learn to get the time right next time?

Some indication of an answer is found in both the first reading and the gospel. In the former, Qoheleth tells us that it is God who has made everything appropriate to its time. And, more importantly, he goes on to say that God has also put the timeless into (our) hearts. In other words, it is possible to get some sense of what the right time – God’s time – may be at any given moment in our lives. And isn’t this what we find Jesus doing at the beginning of the gospel? We’re told that, before summoning his disciples, Jesus was praying in solitude. He was looking into his heart. He was seeking the timeless. He was consulting his Father. He was telling the time.

What time is it for us today?


  1. Today's gospel passage is very curious, Fr Chris. "Jesus was praying in solitude" and yet "the disciples were with him" and he started asking them questions about himself! I wonder: Did the disciples feel what I felt when we were asked by the celebrant in the middle of a mass to give him feedback (on what we like about the retreat) at the end of a one-day retreat a few years ago?

    Why is He asking this question now and not AFTER the prayer? What were they praying about when He started asking that question?

    So, he was consulting his Father and learnt that it's time to ask them who they thought He was? Or rather that it's time to tell them about his imminent dying and rising as a result of who He is, and so prepare them for their 'dying' and 'rising'? Just before this, He had performed the miracle of the multiplication of loaves and fish; and his disciples had earlier cured diseases in many towns. Maybe the disciples were feeling too high then? Did someone start praying to God to overthrow the Roman empire soon?

    As for what time it is for me, I don't know. I'm running out of time where an urgent task is concerned. I'm still praying and trying hard while wondering when God would transform this time of intense frustration into a time of satisfaction or enlightenment. I can only keep hoping against hope. If that task eventually comes to naught, I can only trust that all things work for good...

  2. Indeed, with God, we speak of the timeless, not confined by the human concept of time and space. He is eternal and it is hard for me to comprehend.
    I am reminded of a rancher in China who lost his prized horse because someone forget to close the gate enclosure. The horse escaped which he bemoaned. This horse returned bringing along a horde of wild horses, to the rancher's delight.
    His son rode on one of the untamed horse, fell and broke his leg, much to the father's grief. This happened during the time of conscription and the boy was exempted from battle. The rancher could not believe his good fortune as a result of the 'accident".
    I do not know the chinese characters with just four words to describe this story, with an earthly philosophy.
    The point I am making is that the timeline is long. We measure our thoughts in the immediate. The worries of life are concluded when we finally expire, into the next.


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