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Fullness of time (Galatians 4:4)

On 9-10 December 2017, the CFC Board of Elders held its weekend retreat at St. Joseph’s Sanctuary in Silang, Cavite with Msgr. Sabino Vengco as the retreat master. Being in the season of Advent, Msgr. Vengco chose a passage from Paul’s letter to the Galatians as the Scriptural foundation of the first session: But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption (Galatians 4:4-5).


During this session, Msgr. Vengco introduced two concepts: space and time.  


In the beginning, God created space and time. The two are inextricably linked together. Before creation there was no such thing as time. But time will end, and the end of time is the beginning of eternity (theologically and spelling-wise). Eternal life is thus an everlasting present. There is no before or after. Eternity is not a long time – because time no longer exists. 


In the Greek language, there are two words that both mean “time” – chronos and kairos. Chronos refers to years, months, days, hours, minutes, seconds. It is determined by the earth’s rotation and movement around the sun. On the other hand, kairos refers to time as a moment, time as occasion, time as qualitative rather than quantitative, time as significant rather than dimensional. It is an icon of eternal life. And eternal life is an everlasting now, in which there is no sequence, no before and no after.


When Paul referred to “fullness of time” in his letter to the Galatians, he used the word kairos. Here kairos is time as significant and decisive. Kairos is God’s dimension, one not marked by the past, the present, or the future. At Jesus’ birth, the fullness of time had come. He is already Savior.


In his book titled Space, Time and Incarnation, the renowned theologian Thomas F. Torrance observes that “when the Nicene Creed affirms that the eternal Son of God ‘for us and for our salvation came down from heaven’, it asserts that God Himself is actively present within the space and time of our world”. Christ is the incarnate presence of the living God in time and space.


Torrance continues: “While the Incarnation does not mean that God is limited by space and time, it asserts the reality of space and time for God in the actuality of his relations with us, and at the same time binds us to space and time in all our relations with him.” He affirms that: “God is not love insofar as God loves us; God is love in the fullness and perfection of his being, out of which plenitude God reaches out to us in love.”


During the second session, Msgr. Vengco continued the theological development of time and space. He recalled the scene of the young Jesus at the temple asking his parents, “Why are you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49). Within the space of the temple, at the time (chronos) when Jesus was 12, the time (kairos) came for Jesus to declare that the Father’s house is where the love of the Father is supreme, where the Father is loved according to the original plan of God for humanity.


Joseph and Mary taught Jesus during the entire time (chronos) he was growing up. But at the temple, the time (kairos) had come for Jesus to teach them (and us) that he (and all of us) must be in the Father’s house. At 12, in the temple, Jesus is also Savior.  Thus we can be in the Father’s house because we have been “ransomed” and we have received “adoption.”


The third session was about “born of a woman.” Msgr. Vengo gave us a glimpse of Mariology through a discourse on the Canticle of Mary, the Magnificat. Here is a young woman, Mary, visiting a much older woman, Elizabeth. A woman from a working class (Joseph was a carpenter) is visiting a woman belonging to the upper class of the Jewish society (Zechariah was of the priestly class).


The fact that Ain Karem, where Elizabeth resides, is at a higher elevation than Nazareth is also symbolic. Mary travels up the distance of about 120 kilometers from Nazareth to Ain Karem: Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And Mary said: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior (Luke 1:39,46-47).


Mary’s Magnificat is a joyful proclamation of the good news of salvation. In response to the wonders that are being accomplished, Mary “proclaims the greatness of the Lord”. Mary experiences this and she exclaims, “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Mary stayed three months until John was born. And John was to become the precursor of Christ, the one who will prepare the way, the one who will say, “There is the Lamb of God.” Christ occupies space among us, thus truly human, of flesh and blood, and at the time chosen by the Father (kairos) will offer his life that we may have eternity, where chronos is no more. From Mary’s womb made of flesh, Jesus was born, truly human.


Fr. Raymond Brown in An Introduction to New Testament Christology puts it eloquently: “Unless we understand that Jesus was (also) truly human with no exception but sin, we cannot comprehend the depth of God’s love. If Jesus’ knowledge is limited, as indicated prima facie in the biblical evidence, then one understands that God loved us to the point of self-subjection to our most agonizing infirmities. A Jesus who walked through the world with unlimited knowledge, knowing exactly what the morrow would bring, knowing with certainty that three days after his death his Father would raise him up, would be a Jesus who could arouse our admiration, but a Jesus still far from us. He would be a Jesus far from a humankind that can only hope in the future and believe in God’s goodness, far from a humankind that must face the supreme uncertainty of death with faith but without knowledge of what is beyond. On the other hand, a Jesus for whom the detailed future had elements of mystery, dread, and hope as it has for us and yet, at the same time, a Jesus who would say, ‘Not my will but yours’ – this would be a Jesus who could effectively teach us how to live, for this Jesus would have gone through life’s trials. Then his saying, ‘No one can have greater love than this: to lay down his life for those he loves’ (John 15:13), would be truly persuasive, for we would know that he laid down his life with all the agony with which we lay ours down. We would know that for him the loss of life was, as it is for us, the loss of a great possession, a possession that is outranked only by love.”


The retreat was a Kairos Weekend, an encounter with Jesus and Mary, in space and time, a foretaste of eternal life, the fullness of time. 

Added on Monday, January 15, 2018


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