Rev. Danielle K Bartz January 21, 2024
Mark 1:14-20 “Chronos vs. Kairos”
Don’t get nervous – but I am going to teach you some Biblical Greek. For the record, I didn’t like studying Biblical Greek, I was never very good at it, and my ability to do my own translation of it diminished significantly the minute I finished my final exam in that course. But, there are some helpful words to know, and I am going to teach you two of them: chronos and kairos. These are both words the ancient Greeks used to reference the movement of time. Chronos is calendar time, essentially the way humanity has agreed to measure time based on the position of the sun and our orbit around it (setting aside the ongoing debate about Day Light Savings Time in the US). Chronos is quantifiable. Saying that it is time on January 21, 2024 is chronos time. We got that? Okay. The next word to reference time the ancient Greeks used is kairos. This is time that is not quantifiable – it cannot be marked on a calendar, and yet it is real and its movement can be felt. This is God’s time. It is the movement of things that cannot be scientifically measured and yet the results of it can be felt and perhaps even seen. Kairos time is qualitative.
Here is a way to think of the difference between the two. Chronos time is like a diary entry, in which you record your actions during a specific day, maybe even with notations about times things were done. In the future, you, or someone else with access to those entries, can look back and see what occurred in your life on that particular day. Kairos time would be a reflection that I might begin with, “In the middle part of my life, I began to learn…”. Again, a person can look back and feel how that time progressed, but in a way that is broad, open, and allows for reflection.
So, are we feeling confident about those two definitions? Chronos is a time that is quantifiable and can be measured. Kairos time is qualitative and allows for an unfolding of events that can be felt but not necessarily measured.
Why is this important? Because the scriptures that we study to help us understand the movement of God during the ministry of Jesus Christ uses both chronos time and kairos time. And as we study scriptures I believe it is necessary that we recognize those differences because they help us to reflect on God’s movement in our own lives. And I believe today’s scripture in particular is a way for us to reflect on just that – how God’s movement unfolded during the time of Jesus and how it is unfolding in our own lives today.
Nerdy Bible Fun Fact: There are 86 references to kairos time in the New Testatment and 54 references to chronos time. Now, if you read ancient Greek and can read the New Testament in its original language, then you would have no difficulty in discerning between the two. But as most of us do not read the New Testament in its original Greek, and as translators have used interchangeable words for those two very distinct ways to think about time, it can get rather confusing.
In today’s text we have one reference to kairos and three references to chronos. First, the references to chronos time – quantifiable time. This happened after John was arrested. We might no longer have that date recorded, but it was a time that was measured – there was a before and an after. The other two references are the use of Mark’s favorite word – ‘immediately.’ He uses it (another nerdy Bible fun fact) 41 times in this relatively short Gospel. It appears twice in just these 7 verses. “Immediately” is a chronos word – it is meant to indicate a measurable movement of time. The four disciples who joined Jesus, the Gospel says, did so immediately. In fact, most of the action that takes place in the Gospel of Mark happens ‘immediately.’ Reading Mark is a bit like watching that old television show ‘24’, in which a tremendous amount to things happen within 24 hours, with a little timer in the corner of the screen marking the time. I watched a few seasons of that show and I was also left a bit confused about how the characters could drive across huge cities in about 15 seconds, let alone go 24 hours without an apparent bathroom break. But, it was fun and exciting to watch, even though the plot holes about what can actually happen in a certain period of time were a big ridiculous. The Gospel of Mark is like that – a lot happens ‘immediately’ even though that was likely not the case.
The way this story reads, Andrew and Simon, James and John, completely, and immediately, upend their lives in order to follow Jesus. It leaves readers today thinking, ‘well, I could never do that, so I guess I will never be a true follower of Jesus.’ But the truth is, they likely already knew who Jesus was. They probably had gone to hear him speak a few times, been talking about him, and felt a pull from God for a while. It is also a pretty safe assumption that they were familiar with John the Baptist and had been compelled by his message already. Indeed, it is not much of a stretch to image that they had been followers of him and were ready to change their lives, but then that was interrupted by John’s arrest. So, when Jesus comes to them with an invitation to join him, it was a fulfillment of something that had been working on and in them for a while. Their decision likely took place within God’s time, kairos time.
And the ancient hearers and readers of this text would probably have understood that because kairos time had already been invoked as this story was told. It is said in verse 15 that Jesus preached: “The time is fulfilled and the Kingdom of God has come near.” That word time, ‘the time is fulfilled’, is kairos. That is not time that can be marked on a calendar. That is God’s time, time that is outside of our human ability to measure. It is time that has been moving through the spirits of those first disciples in some immeasurable way, allowing them the space to listen to the voice of God calling them, nudging them, and helping them get to yes when Jesus said ‘come and follow me.’
Imagine if this story read like this: It’s 9:45am on January 21st and Jesus says, ‘at 10:00am leave literally everything and everyone in your life behind, and come and follow me. I’ll be walking out the door at 10:02am, be there or be square.’ There may be a few, in the course of human history, that could answer that call, but very few indeed. I don’t think anyone here, myself very much included, could do that. If that happened here, my thoughts might sound a bit like this: “Whoa, whoa, whoa Jesus! I hear you and I want to follow, I really do. But I need a bit more time. I got a dog at home, plus parents who count on me to help, and I need to make arrangements for them. Plus, what about my mortgage? And the promises I made to my congregation – I mean our annual meeting is coming right up. I should give them some warning right? I just need a little more time, Jesus, so I can do this right.”
Luckily, that is not how God works. God does not expect us to mark our devotion to God by our date books. Kairos, God’s time, is more than, and beyond, the unchangeable movement of the sun. God’s time moves within the world not in increments, either tiny or huge, but a bit like the flow of a river – starting in an unseeable source beneath the ground, slowly moving and building and leading out in different directions, and heading towards something, and sustaining life along the way. It has both terrifying rapids and peaceful shoals. It swells with rain and diminishes with drought. It can be seen and felt and it moves us along, but it is so much bigger than we can comprehend. And we can either choose to cling to a rock, that may feel solid, but leaves us buffeted by the waves, or we can let go and allow God to carry us along.
Jesus calling upon these first disciples was within the movement of God’s time and their response was a way of letting go and moving with the flow of God in their lives. God is calling upon our lives and we have answered that call and we are still answering that call. God has already fulfilled God’s promise to humanity and it still fulfilling that promise. God’s time is beyond our ability to measure in our lives, and yet we can feel its flow around us. If we choose to judge ourselves based on an idea of chronos time, time that is limited enough for us to measure, then we will always fall short. But, if we can let go of that, let go of that anxiety, and instead open ourselves to the movement of God, giving ourselves room and grace for new ideas to flourish, new adventures to begin, and trust that God knows where we are heading, then our future as disciples is grand indeed. Kairos, God’s time, is one of limitless possibility, so let us all seek to make space for it in our lives. Amen.
God of all space and time, you are our beginning, our present, and our future. You encompass us within the limitless bounds of your time and movement. We cannot measure you and yet we can experience you in real ways. For this miraculous gift, we give you great thanks and it is in that spirit of gratitude that we come before you now in prayer.
God, we acknowledge that it can be more comfortable to measure our lives in ways that can be marked in increments. And so we also acknowledge the limits of this upon our ability to follow your call upon us. Help us to let go of that need for total control and give us the courage to let go and flow within your time. When we insist on seeing the destination before we will even begin, give us the resilience to trust in you completely. And for all of the times when we fall short, remind us of your endless source of grace.
One of the ways we open ourselves to your movement through our lives is in prayer. As we open our spirits to you know in these moments of silence, give us the ears to hear and the hearts to listen to your still-speaking voice…
Boundless God, you gave us the example of Jesus to follow. Let him be our inspiration so we too can answer your call. We pray all of this in his name, and now in the way he taught…Our Father…