“They came and saw where Jesus was staying. And they stayed with Him; for it was about the tenth hour.” – John 1:39
“It was about the tenth hour.”
Have you ever wondered if the gospel writers sometimes arbitrarily insert random details in their written accounts just to see if people notice? Yea. It gets me too, especially when there isn’t (at least at first glance) a logical explanation for the chance detail randomly inserted. Like the time Jesus cured a blind man, mind you, by spitting in the man’s eyes. You’re cruising along the gospels, reading the marvelous things Jesus did – when you suddenly do a double-take and find yourself asking “like, what is that supposed to mean?”
It’s random details like these that sometimes make me wonder if the gospel writers were not just simply engaging in their own 1st century version of what we moderns now call “trolling” (you know, when people – aka “trolls” – throw in random comments in the comments section of social media just to derail a conversation, simply for the fun of it).
Did the writers of sacred scripture know that some 2000 years later many a preacher (or blogger!) would be going off on useless tangents about spit? I picture these sacred authors high-fiving each other and getting a good laugh out of it from up above. Or perhaps they knew that modern Christian song writers would find the phrase “it was about the tenth hour” catchy, and they’d write a cheesy song about it for VBS and make it painfully rhyme with sour-flower and flour. But as much as these thoughts momentarily tickle my funny bone, I am convinced that the writer’s purposes were higher – and their inspiration much more divine. I do confess you’re on your own today as for the “spit” incident. Deeply insightful commentary won’t be offered here as to why Jesus specifically chose spit for performing that particular miracle (there is a reason to be sure, but that’s a blog post for another time). But today, as I sat in the pew at Mass this morning listening to the gospel be read out loud, I was led to hone in on one small detail from the day’s reading that will provide plenty of material to unpack and reflect on in the days to come.
And that detail is the “tenth hour”.
Given the propensity throughout my life of constantly doing things at “the eleventh hour” (aka procrastinating until the last minute), the phrase “for it was about the tenth hour” in John 1:39 really struck a cord with me; and even more so because this was the defining moment in which Jesus’ first two disciples made a decision to stay with Jesus and follow Him after seeing where Jesus’ dwelt. Had they conveniently waited until the eleventh hour (both literally and figuratively), we might have never had a St. John and St. Andrew – or even a St. Peter for that matter (another future blog post).
But they didn’t wait. Something moved them to a response.
Have you ever done something like this? You meet someone that invites you to personally take a peek inside their life, and after seeing for yourself what they are about, something about them is just so authentic, attractive, and compelling, that you leave the safety and comfort of everything else you knew behind; and you begin a new adventure – following that person at whatever cost may come!
Sounds gutsy, doesn’t it? I envision the content of it could even make for a reality TV show! Except we all know reality shows don’t reflect real life, plus the participants/contestants are often compensated in some way (be it money or fame). But the apostles were promised neither. And yet, we do know that these first two apostles embarked on an adventure with Christ that forever changed their lives.
To keep things in perspective, bear in mind that Jesus did not dwell in some kind of attractive celebrity mansion like the ones you’d see lining the streets of Beverly Hills today, forming the dream homes of many. Heck, once Jesus started His public ministry, He Himself openly admitted to his followers, “foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
So let’s sum this up. Thus far, Jesus’ tactic basically reads something like this: “Hey, want to be my follower? I’m homeless! No seriously, I am more homeless than a stray dog, and have less possessions than the pigeons flying in your city square! Come follow me!” How’s that for a genius marketing ploy?
And to “up the ante”, He even takes people to see for themselves where and how (very unglamorously) He lives. Huh?? Not. Genius. Marketing. At. All. This goes contrary to our picture-perfect “look at how glamorous my life is so please follow me” Instagram-obsessed culture. But when “genius marketing” gives way to humble-authenticity, being real, and having the doors of one’s heart opened to receiving a real, personal invitation to something (or Someone) bigger than oneself – something in our hearts begins to stir; some thing that all those other facades had previously kept neatly locked up within us, and could never begin to stir. That stirring is the potential for brand new life being ignited within our souls.
The sight of the doors of God’s Kingdom being opened up for us by Christ Himself makes all the tiny little kingdoms we had so furiously built up for ourselves suddenly seem to crumble – like castles in the sand. Our desire for power and control somehow loses its power and grip over us when we come to grips with the reality of the Truly Powerful One standing before us, offering to walk along-side us and fight for us. Perhaps something would begin to stir in your own heart right now if you closed your eyes in a moment of silence, and you placed yourself in the shoes (er, sandals?) of the first two apostles who on that blessed day followed-up on Jesus’ invitation to “come and see” for themselves what He was all about. They saw and felt something they had never seen or felt before. They saw and felt it maybe not with their physical senses, but certainly with their hearts. For our heart is often the first to set itself on something or someone (for better or for worse), before our mind and our wills catch on to what is stirring. And then we either assent to it – or we don’t. We can act on it while we have the power to choose in the present moment… or we sit and wait until the eleventh hour when other forces and influences have already sapped our energy and ability to take initiative at the opportune moment.
“Now is the time for salvation,” we are reminded elsewhere in scripture (2 Cor 6:2). We often find ourselves hiding so many wounds and resentments from our past that we simultaneously give into many worries and anxieties about our futures; but the power of inviting God into our present situation in the here and now is often underestimated. It is the one thing that can begin to heal our past and right our future.
What was it about Jesus that attracted the first two apostles so much to the point that they’d be willing to leave it all behind at a moment’s notice, in that precise hour?
What was it about Jesus that attracted the first two apostles so much to the point that they’d be willing to leave it all behind at a moment’s notice in that precise hour? Before we “romanticize” these gospel stories and allow them to lose some of their edge and grit, let’s end with some blunt honesty here. For someone to just up-and-leave their entire old way of life behind and begin a brand new adventure with someone they just met – that is pretty drastic – to put it mildly! I think it’s not too far-fetched to believe that the two apostles must have seen something they hadn’t seen before, or at least realized something they hadn’t realized before they met Jesus. And whatever that “something” was, whatever that internal realization was – it must have been pretty big.
So in that tenth hour, just what did they see in Jesus that made them decide right then and there to leave it all behind, stay with Jesus, and make that moment the first day of the rest of their new lives. For from that day on, they would live and walk as His disciples – and their identity would be changed forever. And just why did the gospel writer deem it important enough to specify that it was the tenth hour when this happened?
Random detail? I don’t think so. It’s more so a juicy gospel-tidbit left behind by the sacred authors for us to chew on.
Stay posted for the next part of this blog series on which we will be reflecting on the special significance of the Tenth Hour; how this defining moment (or series of moments) happens to all of us at one point or another – whether we recognize it or not; and what this “tenth hour moment” means for you and I, for the future of the Church, and for the world around us.
Until then! Be God’s my friends. Be God’s. (And don’t wait until the eleventh hour…)