Frances writes on next Sunday’s Readings :- Most of us just dawdle along in our Christian faith until occasionally something brings us up short, some life-changing event, a serious illness, the death of a loved one, or a massive change in one’s career. I suppose we don’t always think of such moments as kairos moments, the in-breaking of God into our chronological time. We think of the discovery of a cancer in a partner, or other seriously disabling conditions, as things which ruin our plans, take away life, and are negative; but what if we could begin to see some of these disastrous and dramatic shifts in our vision of life as precisely moments of the coming to be of God in our lives?
Jesus experienced just such an incident (Mark 1:14-20) with the arrest and ultimately the execution of his beloved cousin John the Baptist by Herod Antipas. This event, and the disastrous consequences for John, would be the catalyst which triggered into being his own ministry in Galilee. Perhaps until that moment Jesus had been an admirer and follower of John’s reformist agenda for Judaism, and content to follow his lead. If so, John’s arrest pushed Jesus to reconsider, for we know that even after his own baptism by John and the descent of the Holy Spirit upon him, Jesus had not taken up any leadership role. Into this moment of crisis, Kairos, he recognises that his own time for action has arrived; and Jesus chooses disciples to follow him and carry out his work.
Now, as we all know, it is possible to resist or even fail to recognise these moments of grace, of God’s call. We see this in the story of Jonah and the Ninevehites, (Jonah 3: 1-5.10) though the humour and grace of God is lost in the savage cutting down of the story (he and the whale etc). What is perhaps most shocking is that Jonah was sent to a large pagan city, once the capital of ancient Assyria and, according to the story, found a receptive audience, and turned what had formerly been pagans with many gods, and a warlike people at that, hell bent on the conquest of the Middle and Near East, to the worship of the one true God. Now we know that Jonah was not written in the 8thc BCE but quite likely much later, even during the 4th century, so history is not its aim, but rather a story of the grace and mercy of God and to hated foreigners at that. Certainly during that period, there were many around, Egyptians ruling Palestine, not to mention the rise of the Greeks under Alexander. Perhaps therefore our ‘Jonah’ was writing, along with the Wisdom writers of the period, of the astonishing outreach of God to all people, regardless of their goodness; for as we know the original Assyrians were a byword for cruelty. Conventional wisdom would certainly have been to hunker down in periods of stress, and most certainly not to have considered even the possibility of God’s outreach to them; but our Jonah, to his credit, was able after God’s hard lesson in being swallowed by a huge sea creature, to consider a different way. With this somewhat zany story in mind, I have been surprised and frequently deeply moved to hear of the deep faith and liveliness of Christians in Iraq, those returning to the Nineveh Plains of the North, to ruined villages and despoiled churches, now that Isis has been driven out; and amidst the chaos one of their priorities has been to restore their churches and worshipping communities and, even more radically, receive the help and support of Muslim neighbours in getting ready for Christmas.
When Paul wrote his many letters to the truculent Christians of Corinth, (1 Cor 7:29-31) he was addressing Christians who ostensibly ‘had it all’, quite unlike the Christians in modern Iraq, but probably much more like us. Corinth was a new city, founded by Caesar after the destruction of the old one because it had supported Carthage against Rome in the final Punic War. It did not therefore have the ancient aristocracy at its head, but up and coming ‘new’ men, free veteran soldiers and freed slaves on the make. With its two thriving ports, one facing west towards Italy and the other, the other side of the Gulf of Corinth looking east. It would have been a hive of activity, with enormous markets selling spices from the east and metals from Spain, importing grain from Egypt, and no doubt a thriving slave market too. Its citizens were avid social climbers, as we know from the wealthy Erastus who became the city treasurer and was a Christian, showering his benevolence on rich and poor, and building public amenities. As he appears to sport only one name, we can assume he rose from humble, even slave origins, a tribute to the go-getting nature of the city. This was a society of traders, bankers and exploiters, an anything goes community, and no doubt Paul believed that if he could successfully plant the Christian faith there, alongside the many other new cults and old pagan beliefs of Corinth, then he could do it anywhere.
Corinthians were a hard nut to crack, and those who made the move to the Christian faith probably did not for a moment considers the effects life under the lordship of Christ would ultimately have on their lifestyles. This is why Paul wrote ‘Those whose life is buying things should live as though they had nothing of their own; and those who deal with the world should not become engrossed in it….The world as we know it is passing away’. For the average Corinthian entrepreneur this would have been social suicide, yet Paul insists that should be their approach to daily life! The Greek makes wonderfully clear precisely how engrossed in the world these people were, since the word for buying things comes from the word ‘agora’, the heart and nerve centre of the city, the place that made them tick, and Paul was stating that the Christ event had turned their world upside down. We too must look for such events, such kairos moments in our lives.