Time Is Running Out

(Homily for Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B)

Today's Scripture readings speak about the shortness of human life and the importance of repenting now. Once a pastor attempted to get this point across to his congregation in a dramatic way. He began his homily by announcing, “Everyone in this parish is going to die!” The people shuddered, except for one man in the back who started chuckling. The pastor then repeated, “Everyone in this parish is going to die!” Again the congregation shuddered, but the same man chuckled even louder. The pastor said it a third time and once more the man laughed. Frustrated, the pastor asked the man why he was laughing. “Father,” he said, “I am from the neighboring parish.”

Let's be honest. Most of us have a similar attitude toward death. It always happens to someone else, so why worry? We do not take death and judgment seriously. St. Paul recognized that human tendency; for that reason he spoke directly to the Corinthians: “Time is running out.” Paul had a sense of urgency regarding the end of the world and the end of our own lives. We need to recapture some of that realism. As a help to doing that, I would like to tell you about a man who had a dramatic experience of time running out.

You have probably heard of the nineteenth century Russian novelist, Feodor Dostoevsky. He wrote The Brothers Karamazov, Crime and Punishment and other wonderful novels. As a young man, Dostoevsky got involved with a group of subversives who were arrested and imprisoned. One day the authorities took them out of prison and led them to the main square of Petersburg. At first they thought they were being released, but when they arrived they saw an execution stand. The officers selected three prisoners, blindfolded them and tied them to posts. Dostoevsky watched in horror as the firing squad loaded the rifles and pointed them at his comrades. He turned to a man at his right and even though he knew him to be a scoffer, he told him to ask Christ for forgiveness and to be brave. They waited, but the guns did not go off. The Tsar had reprieved the condemned men.

In his novels Dostoevsky refers to that experience. What struck him was not how short a time he had to live, but what he would do with the final five minutes. In his mind he divided the remaining time: one minute to observe his surroundings, to drink in the colors, shapes and sounds; two minutes to think about what he had done in his live and two minutes to consider what might await him after death. Parceled out in that way, the time left seemed sufficient, even expansive.

St. Paul had something like that in mind when he said, “Time is running out.” It is not just that time goes by quickly. Everyone knows that, but the question is: What will you and I do with the time that remains? That question is so urgent that St. Paul tells husbands and wives to refrain from the marital embrace. They have something even more vital to attend to.

In reminding people that time is running out, Paul was following the example of Jesus. In today's Gospel we hear the first words of his public ministry. They provide a keynote for his subsequent teaching: “The kingdom of heaven is near. Repent and believe in the Gospel.” In a few weeks you will hear those words when a priest marks your forehead with ashes. Remember that you will soon return to dust; repent and believe. Lent will arrive soon, but to wait a month or a week would be foolhardy. Time is running out. Now is the time to attend to what most matters: Consider where you are at this moment and how you got here. Turn away from evil and embrace the kingdom of Christ.

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Spanish Version

From the Archives:

Third Sunday, Year B, 2012: Time to Place Your Bet
2009: Repent and Believe
2006: Time Is Running Out
2003: The Third Luminous Mystery
2000: The Last Sunrise
1997: My Call to Priesthood

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