The readings are from the Catholic lectionary for daily mass, while the headline is chosen by me to remind me of the world in which I blog.
There is a season for everything, a time for every occupation under heaven:
A time for giving birth,
a time for dying;
a time for planting,
a time for uprooting what has been planted.
A time for killing,
a time for healing;
a time for knocking down,
a time for building.
A time for tears,
a time for laughter;
a time for mourning,
a time for dancing.
A time for throwing stones away,
a time for gathering them up;
a time for embracing,
a time to refrain from embracing.
A time for searching,
a time for losing;
a time for keeping,
a time for throwing away.
A time for tearing,
a time for sewing;
a time for keeping silent,
a time for speaking.
A time for loving,
a time for hating;
a time for war,
a time for peace.
What does a man gain for the efforts that he makes? I contemplate the task that God gives mankind to labour at. All that he does is apt for its time; but though he has permitted man to consider time in its wholeness, man cannot comprehend the work of God from beginning to end.
The beautiful meditation asks us to imagine that the character of any time is such that there is an action which is appropriate to it. Wisdom consists in suiting the action to the tme. The author means that the stream of events is not directionless; one thing leads to another so that one purpose is more likely to succeed than another at any one time. The great Chinese Book of Changes has the same conviction and offers a way of decoding the character of any time with precision.
Doubtless there is a wisdom in understanding what is possible; it has been said the politics is the art of the possible. This does not mean that one has to bow to the forces which are dominant at any time; but it does mean that effective action must take account of them. There’s no point in trying to embrace the lady if the relationship has gone cold but one need not give up the hope of warming it up. There’s no point in thinking that Islamic State can be be stopped by heartfelt pleading but one need not give in to the belief that war is the only way of dealing with them. One may be able to minimise the suffering they cause until there is an opportunity to undermine their power. There will be a time for peace.
The poem hints that while we can gain a understanding of sequences of events, we can’t guess what God’s purpose is over the whole sequence of time. This scepticism at least stops us imagining that God has revealed his hidden purpose only to us, which can produce peaceful daft missions like that of the Jehovah’s Witnesses or bloody mad missions like that of Islamic State.
One day when Jesus was praying alone in the presence of his disciples he put this question to them, ‘Who do the crowds say I am?’ And they answered, ‘John the Baptist; others Elijah; and others say one of the ancient prophets come back to life.’ ‘But you,’ he said ‘who do you say I am?’ It was Peter who spoke up. ‘The Messiah of God’ he said. But he gave them strict orders not to tell anyone anything about this.
‘The Son of Man’ he said ‘is destined to suffer grievously, to be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes and to be put to death, and to be raised up on the third day.’
In this passage Jesus plays with two eschatological roles described by prophecy. One is that of the Messiah, the anointed agent of God in establishing his justice on earth and saving his chosen people from oppression.The other is that of the Son of Man who in Daniel chapter 7 is described as the holy people of the Most High who will in the end form a humane kingdom in place of the brutal regimes which have ruled the earth.
According to the gospels Jesus viewed to role of Messiah as open to misunderstanding. Messiahs had led the people in fruitless bloodshed against the Romans and would do so again. If Jesus saw himself as Messiah he rejected that interpretation of the role.
Jesus used the term “Son of Man” as meaning himself as representative of his community. The holy ones of God will suffer rejection, violence and death before their vindication by God. In particular, he, the leader will suffer first.
In this way Jesus teaches that the world will not be changed for the better by violence but by sacrifice. I don’t want to believe this because I don’t want to suffer or to see other people suffer, but it seems to me to be true. Yes, it’s possible that in extreme situations war may restrain evil but even then it does not create goodness. The way chosen by Jesus is the only way that works.