Redeeming the Time
In today's Second Reading, Ephesians 5:15-20, St. Paul offers important advise on how Christians must live their daily lives.
He begins by saying that we must watch how we live, taking care not be be foolish but wise. Then he says, in the New American Bible translation we use in the Lectionary, that as wise people, we should be “making the most of every opportunity.”
In the Greek, these six little words, “making the most of every opportunity,” take on a depth of meaning not evident in the English. Here is the Greek line: exagorazomenoi ton kairon. It literally means “being involved in redeeming the time.”
Let's take a closer look at the structure and meaning of this little phrase because knowing the details of the original Greek opens up a whole realm of possibilities for study and reflection.
We'll start with the Greek present middle participle exagorazomenoi. Without getting too technical, the Greek middle voice indicates that the subject of the verb (or participle in this case) is involved in the action of the verb but not necessarily the primary cause of the action. While English doesn't have a middle voice, we can approximate it with the sentence, “The door closed.” The door is involved in the action but not causing the action. It's doing something but not on its own power. This participle comes from the verb exagorazō, which has multiple connotations including to ransom, to buy off, to buy for one's self or one's own use, to set free, or to rescue from loss.
So people who are wise are involved in rescuing or ransoming or buying for their own use kairon or time. They are not necessarily the primary cause of this action, but they are involved in it as cooperating participants.
There are two Greek words for “time”: kairos and chronos. The word kairon in this passage is the accusative (or direct object) form of kairos. It receives the action of the participle exagorazomenoi. It is what is being redeemed.
We can more easily understand the meaning of kairos if we compare it to the other Greek work for “time,” chronos. Chronos refers to mechanical time. It is measured time: days, months, hours, minutes, seconds, years, etc. Chronos is all about quantity. It's what we think about when we're awakened by the alarm in the morning or watching the clock at the end of the work day.
Kairos, on the other hand, is about quality. It is measured by the significance of the events it contains, so it is filled with meaning, possibility, and promise. Kairos is time with with a human, and even divine, element embedded in it.
So when we are “being involved in redeeming the time,” we are claiming the meaning of our time, the possibility of our lives, and the promise of each moment. We are setting all the meaning, possibility, and promise free. We're rescuing time from from the mundane, the insignificant, and the hopeless.
But we are not doing it on our own. We cooperate, certainly, we are not not in charge of this redemption of time. God is. Without God, there would be no kairos, no meaning, no possibility, no promise. And without His grace, we would never be able to redeem the meaning, possibility, and promise of kairos.
Take some time today to reflect on how well you are cooperating with God in redeeming your time. Are you rescuing the meaning in each moment or simply letting it slide by?
(Sources: Fundamentals of New Testament Greek by Stanley E. Porter, Jeffrey T. Reed, and Matthew Brook O'Donnell; Eschatology class notes from Dr. Regis Martin; Greattreasures.org)