June 11, 2019
by Tom Lenz
Creighton University's School of Pharmacy
click here for photo and information about the writer

Memorial of Saint Barnabas, Apostle
Lectionary: 580/360

Acts 11:21b-26; 12:1-3
Psalms 98:1, 2-3ab, 3cd-4, 5-6
Matthew 5:13-16

Praying Ordinary Time

Pope Francis' homily on this gospel in 2013

Weekly Guide for Daily Prayer

Understanding the Mass
Praying the Psalms

One of the things I find amazing about reflecting on the daily readings is how I often get drawn into a word, a phrase, or a sentence. Sometimes it feels very random to get so drawn to a short phrase that on the surface seems meaningless at the time. But, as I sit with it for a while, God’s intended message comes through. So, in today’s reading I didn’t get very far before I was drawn in. In fact, I was there after the first three words of the First Reading in Acts 11. The reading starts out with, “In those days.” We often use phrases like this when we talk with others, “Back in the day” or “In the good ‘ol days” or some other phrase that somehow seems to create a separation between that time period and the present. It is easy to think of time periods that we were not part of as seeming disconnected and unrelatable from our own.

A couple years ago I was doing research for an upcoming presentation. Within this presentation I wanted to give the audience a perspective on how quickly our food sources have changed relative to our evolution. To prove the point, I asked the audience to imagine two timepoints. Time point one was when the first living human-like species was alive on earth. Scientists have named her Lucy and they estimate that she lived during the Australopithecus time period about 3.7 million years BC. Timepoint two was the very minute they were hearing the presentation. To get a perspective on how long ago (or not) this was, I asked them to place timepoints one and two on a familiar scale – our 12 month calendar. In doing this, timepoint one was the very first second on January 1 and timepoint two was the very last second on December 31. By overlaying these two timepoints we can gain some perspective on just how recent we have changed out eating habits. For example, the agricultural revolution occurred 10,000BC, which was only 28 hours ago on the 12 month calendar. And, modern farming practices started only 17 minutes ago with most of the food we recognize today only coming into existence minutes to seconds ago relative to our evolution.

The most interesting thing I discovered when doing this, however, occurred a few weeks ago and had nothing to do with food. I was preparing to give this same presentation to my students and thought, I wonder how long ago Jesus lived relative to this time scale. It turns out, less than 5 minutes ago – crazy to think of, I know. But, that’s not the most amazing part. The universe did not start with Lucy, it started when God created it. So, making a few assumptions and taking a few liberties, I recalculated the numbers. I used the oldest living substance that scientists know of, water, as time point one. Scientists think that water existed about 4.6 billion years ago (of course this is an estimate and no one knows for sure. And incidentally, it is about the same age as the sun). So, using 4.6 billion years ago as timepoint one and this very second as timepoint two, Jesus lived on earth about 14 seconds ago relative to the age of the earth (or about the same amount of time it took to read this sentence).

It is often easy to feel disconnected from our past, and even from scripture. But, relative to our common home (the earth), we may not be as disconnected as we think. So, if I ever have doubts about the relevance and relatability of Jesus and his words and teachings in the world today, I just need to think back to what I was doing 14 seconds ago for the answers. He is a lot closer than we may realize. (By the way, the number 14 is my new favorite number.)

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