From time to time I will look at a map and just follow a river up and up and up stream. I love seeing where tributaries pour in and end. I love seeing the odd twists in direction. And, finally, I love seeing where the river begins, where it’s head water lie.
An interesting feature of our midwestern rivers is how quickly they change. This complicates property and state lines. Little sections of the river just get cut off over time from the main channel and form what are called ox bow lakes. These left behind turns of the river stump map writers and deed makers. About forty five minutes from where I grew up there is a wonderful Iowa town named Carter Lake that just happens to be surrounded by Nebraska. One has to leave Iowa, cross the wide Missouri, and drive through Nebraska in order to make it back to Iowa. Resident children will make the journey over the river to Council Bluffs rather than attend the closer Omaha schools.
This is not a rare or even recent phenomenon. These enclaves are simply the nature of rivers. The water will hit a bank and slowly eat away at it. Sometime is will eat away enough to bust through the bank entirely so that it meets itself downstream on the otherside. But what I find interesting is that this has happened in the time Iowans and Nebraskans have tried to make a boundary between their states. A whole part of Iowa has been left behind by the passage of a whole lot of water and just a little time.
Time is the character that sticks out to me in this Gospel passage today. An Anglican, if not ancient, belief is that time is a creature just like you, me and the rivers. Time exists but is not eternal. Time was created and someday will end. But as Jesus joins us in our humanity and is subjected to the river Jordan and the Sea of Galilee, so too is he subject to time.
Like a river, we might not believe that time can change things over time. Were we to go to Carter Lake IA today we might assume that it has always been a part of Nebraska. And as Jesus returns to his hometown, his old neighbors and teachers assume that this is the same old Jesus that they have known since he was a lad.
But time has passed since Jesus has left and he is not the same person as when he left. Sure, he is still Jesus but he has different boundaries now. The community of his youth robs him of his dignity when they assume that he has not been changed by time, when they do not assume that some kind of maturity has taken place. But worst of all, the miss out on who he has become and literally miss out on the miracles he can do and the miracle of who he is.
But the lessons of time continue into the second half of the Gospel too. The Apostles learn to revere time as well. Like a river beating against the bank we might be tempted to think that the only way forward is going through what is directly ahead of us. If there is somebody we want to know Jesus we might think that we are the only ones who will have a shot at sharing with them the good news. Me might be tempted to think, “if not us, who?” But Jesus teaches us to be like river. The river’s power is revealed over time. When it does not break through, it simply leaves the bank behind and flows around it. Someday, after enough time has passed, the power of the river will break through the bank.
We are called to revere and steward well all of God’s creation, including time. I wonder if there is someone in your life who has been changed by time? Have you honored that change? Have you accepted their new boundaries as time has formed them or have you left them in the past? Do not deprive yourself of who they are and the miracles they might bring you.
Or, perhaps, are you thinking of someone you wish would change more quickly? Have you put pressure on them to change or yourself to change them? Perhaps you are the one to break through the bank but more likely you are called to do your part and travel passed them. We must trust that God has someone upstream to breakthrough rather than stagnate on the bank. God calls us to float on.
These postures and practices help keep us in healthy relationship with one another and with God. They help us remember that we have a role to play but that any power we have comes from God and returns to God. And, in time, we will see God’s will done. Life is easier when we honor that time has passed and time will pass and it, like us, will all flow into God eventually.