Encountering God by Redeeming Time
Redeem time. The entire spiritual life, the sole purpose we live and breathe, is summed up in two words: redeem time. Brother Lawrence was a young monk when he learned to redeem time. He was sent to the kitchen. For years on end, his single job was to wash dishes, and there, dish after dish, he used time to meditate on God. He discovered holiness in the mundane. We spend so much energy wondering what we should be doing, what would make life more meaningful, how we can be more fulfilled. Meanwhile, God only asks one thing from us: redeem time. Our relationship with God, our faith, boils down to nothing else but the way we handle time.
“See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time” (Eph. 5:15-16).
St. Paul used this word, “redeem,” in another place. He writes: “God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4-5). The word, in Greek, is: ‘exagorazomenoi.’ It literally means to buy or shop in a market. Imagine walking down the fruit aisle at Market Street. You notice an apple. It is not doing anything, just sitting, meaningless on its own. If no one buys it, it will eventually rot and get tossed aside. When you purchase it, the apple takes on purpose. It brings joy to someone. It nourishes the body and even transforms into energy and health. You have “redeemed” the apple. Jesus Christ died and resurrected to “redeem” us. Without his touch, we are buried in nihilistic emptiness, perishing in the same manner that the apple perishes. Yet, in God’s hands, we are transformed, “adopted as sons through Jesus Christ” (Eph. 1:5).
Redemption sums up Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection. Yet, this same word is also used to describe the work we have to do. We must redeem time. We have to buy time, just as you buy apples in the market, or Jesus bought you from the curse of sin. We have to seize the crumbs of time scattered through the day and tune them into God.
Today, we read from the Gospel of St. John.
“Jesus came again to Cana of Galilee where He had made the water wine. And there was a certain nobleman whose son was sick at Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus had come out of Judea into Galilee, he went to Him and implored Him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death” (Jn. 4:46-47).
The nobleman could afford all the best doctors, but no one could help. The boy was dying. Christ was his last hope. If Christ could redeem water, transforming it into wine, perhaps Christ could redeem his son. So, the man sets off on a journey, some 20 miles, to find a cure. When he arrived, he was given a challenge. Christ responds, “Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe” (v. 48) Suddenly, the story takes a turn. It is no longer merely about the dying son. It is about the nobleman’s faith.
“The nobleman said to Him, ‘Sir, come down before my child dies!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go your way; your son lives.’ So the man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him, and he went his way” (v. 49-50).
He turns around and walks the 20-mile journey again. In all that time, you can imagine the thoughts that war in his head. He believes, but with reservation. “Is the boy alive, indeed? Have I been mislead? I believe…I’m not sure I believe…” Finally, he returns home and meets his servants, saying “Your son lives!” The man wants to be sure. “He inquired of them the hour when he got better. And they said to him, ‘Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.’ So the father knew that it was at the same hour in which Jesus said to him, ‘Your son lives.’ And he himself believed, and his whole household” (v. 52-54).
When does the man believe? Does he believe when he sets out to find Christ? Does he believe when our Lord tells him, “Thy son is alive”? Does he believe when the hour is confirmed? Faith comes in stages. St. Augustine says, “There are stages in faith...there is a beginning, an increase, and perfection. He therefore had the beginnings of faith when he prays for his son’s health; an increase, when he believes in the word of the Lord saying to him: Thy son liveth. Then perfection, on hearing from his servants.” Most of us are in the middle stage.
The man started out with a foxhole faith. He was in trouble and needed help. We have all been there. You are at a crisis and look upwards, begging for help. This is the faith of the nobleman at the start of his journey. It is a beginning. It is a morsel of faith, but in the end, it is not sufficient. God asks us to grow deeper in faith. Our gospel today reminds us not be content with our faith, we must move forward and deeper.
What is faith? Psalm 119:30 maintains: “I have chosen the way of faithfulness; I have set my heart on your laws.” Faith is a path, a lifestyle. It is a habit, the fruit of how we manage time. In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis describes this habit of faith. He writes:
“Neither this belief nor any other will automatically remain alive in the mind. It must be fed. And as a matter of fact, if you examined a hundred people who had lost their faith in Christianity, I wonder how many of them would turn out to have been reasoned out of it by honest argument? Do not most people simply drift away?”
Our faith grows or dies because of our habits. Faith can grow dormant as quickly as any other good habit. If we let it become stagnant, if we decide we are content just as we are, then the faith will putter out like a fire unattended. Why do so many lose faith? Not because of intellectual arguments. Not because of life circumstances. We simply drift away. “Neither this belief nor any other will automatically remain alive in the mind,” Lewis writes. “[Faith] must be fed…[We] must train the habit of Faith.” This is what St. Paul means when he says we must redeem the time.
“See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time…be filled with the Spirit; Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; Submitting yourselves one to another [in the parish community] in the fear of God” (Eph. 5:15-21).
Redeem time. At every season of our life, whether we are adolescents, mature adults, or elderly, we should aspire by every means possible to redeem the time. Brother Lawrence learned the art while washing dishes. We can discover holiness wherever we are. By building habits, in the way we live out the community life of the parish and redeem crumbs of time scattered through each day, we feed faith within us. May our Lord inspire us to redeem time so that we may know rest in Him.