As commentator Karoline Lewis notes, our first reaction to our gospel reading for today might be, to say, hold on, sorry Jesus, but you’re wrong. Sometimes we have to bury our dead and you are just going to have to wait. Sometimes we have to say goodbye to those we are leaving or to those we have lost, and after that we will catch up to you. Sometimes we have a few things that need to be done before we jump on the “discipleship bandwagon.” After all, we have been taught how important it is to grieve for those we have lost, perhaps especially for those to whom we are personally close, but also for those whom the world continues to insist are not worthy to be a part of God’s kingdom. Sometimes we just need some time.
In our story, Jesus has become aware of the urgency of time. As he is headed to Jerusalem and to his final moments of life on earth, every moment counts. The words which are translated in our reading as “When the days drew near for him to be taken up” can be better translated literally “as the days were being fulfilled.” It was as if Jesus realized that the momentum of fulfillment of prophecy had accelerated and there wasn’t much time left to accomplish his mission here on earth.
But this urgency is beyond just the personal situation that Jesus finds himself in at that moment in time. It is, as Lewis insists, about “the urgency of God’s favor… What if Jesus sees the importance of time, of a minute, of even a second, not just for the sake of the urgency of his ministry, the urgency of the kingdom he wishes to bring into its fullness, the urgency of making sure that all [have the opportunity to know God’s favor before he is silenced, but simply] because being human means such urgency — every moment really does count.”
Every moment has to count since God made the decision to become one of us. Jesus’ call is not an insensitive plea to abandon that which is important to us, who matters to us, who and what make a difference for us. Jesus’ call to let go is a promise — that God becoming human means that moments matter. Time makes a difference. And that even seconds matter to God. Not for the sake of our service alone, but for the sake of being in the kingdom God imagines. Every moment matters because every one of us counts.
We all understand that in emergencies, every moment counts. When our parishoiner had her stroke, the fact that her family called 911 and an ambulance arrived to rush her to the closest hospital, Nassau University Medical Center, made all the difference. NUMC might not be the place for elective medical care, but it is a premier trauma center and if anyone can save your life in an emergency, they will. But time makes a difference, and because she had surgery less than fourteen days prior to the stroke, they were unable to give her TPA, the medication that helps to break up clots. Time is important with that treatment, which must be administered within four and a half hours of the stroke in order to be effective. We thank God that she was saved and so much of her function has returned, but if she had been able to have the TPA she might have had a faster and even more complete recovery.
During World War II there was a prisoner of war camp in northern Italy, in the area known as the South Tyrol. The camp had formerly been a grand castle. One of the prisoners was a British soldier who had been carefully plotting his escape during the whole time he was there. Now he was ready, and the attempt would be made that night. Unbeknownst to the prisoners, the Allied forces had landed in Italy and were advancing on Rome. The Italian Fascist forces were giving up. All during that day, guards had been quietly leaving, dressed in civilian clothing, leaving weapons behind so they could avoid capture. The men went to the large hall for mail call, but no one brought the mail. Suddenly they heard a commotion. Trucks had come into the camp, with Allied prisoners of war who were high ranking officers. They were herded inside and placed on the grand staircase, waiting for their quarters to be prepared.
The prisoners realized that this was their chance to overcome the small contingent guarding the officers and the few remaining prison guards. Quietly they gathered weapons that had been left behind and knives and cleavers from the kitchen. But they had to be patient and wait for just the right moment. One second too soon, or one second too late, and the guards would realize what was going on and they would fail. The men were anxious, many of them wanting to move immediately. But discipline was maintained, and at just the right time, the order was given; they rushed the hall and overcame the guards and commandant of the camp. Instead of a solitary breakout by one prisoner, all of the prisoners were now free and found help from the resistance forces from the South Tyrol who helped them reach the Allied forces. Instead of being patient and waiting for the war to be over, for the Allied forces to liberate them, in a matter of minutes they were free.
Yes, we are familiar with the fact that in many situations, particularly those that can mean life or death, every moment counts. But we might wonder what all that has to do with discipleship and with the impatience Jesus seems to display to the people he comes in contact with in our gospel lesson. Perhaps the urgency of his own situation has encouraged Jesus to recognize our very human tendency to put off the moments in time that might actually make a difference in our witness to God’s promises. Perhaps Jesus sees that we come all set with excuses to hold off on our commitment. Perhaps we are waiting for just the right moment to make our experience of the Gospel perfect in a way that it was never meant to be. Jesus seems to want us to stop making excuses and start imagining experiences that are more spontaneous, to be willing to say “let’s see what happens” rather than, “first I need all my stuff figured out.”
Jesus wants to know if we understand the urgency of the need to share the Good News about his life, death and resurrection. That leads to a series of questions: Are we sitting around waiting for God to do something, or are we willing to commit ourselves to action? Are we waiting for someone else to speak on behalf of justice and call for righteousness? Or will we recognize the urgency of the moment and proclaim the hope of God’s promises? Are we waiting for others to stand up for those whom our world rejects and reviles, or will we seize the moment and insist God’s love is for all? Are we waiting for someone else to serve as the advocates that God has called us to be, or do we realize that every moment counts and we need to tell the truth -even if it means taking a risk?
Jesus is asking us how we measure our witness to the love of God. There are five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes in the year of a life. Life can begin in one of those minutes, or it can be lost. Jesus wants us to make every moment count. Jesus is telling us that each one of us counts. Every human life counts. And God is counting on us to spread that word. Amen.