Sunday, January 15, 2012

Why did Jesus call Andrew and John at the tenth hour?

2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, John 1:35-42
It was about four in the afternoon.
As St. John tells us of his own calling (for he is surely that unnamed disciple called together with St. Andrew) and of that first conversation he had with our Savior, he specifies the time of day: It was the tenth hour (which is to say, about four in the afternoon).
Why does the Beloved Disciple add this detail? What is the significance of the time? What are we to learn from the hour of the day?

St. John is the unnamed disciple
Most probably, St. John is this unnamed disciple. Fr. Cornelius a’ Lapide: “S. Chrysostom asks, ‘Why is not the name of the other given? Either because it was the writer himself, S. John the Apostle, or because it was a person of no note.’ The first idea is the more probable. And what favours the conjecture is that John and James were companions in fishing with Peter and Andrew (Matt. iv.), when, shortly after Andrew and Peter, Christ calls John and James. Lastly, the great purity, the virginity, and holiness of S. John the Evangelist seem to have been the result of the teaching, the purity, and holiness of S. John the Baptist.”
From the Navarre Bible: “We cannot be absolutely sure who the second disciple was; but since the very earliest centuries of the Christian era he has always been taken to be the Evangelist himself. The vividness of the account, the detail of giving the exact time, and even John’s tendency to remain anonymous seem to confirm this.”
The Jewish hours of the day
Modern man counts time from midnight to midnight, hence at 12am the hours of the day begin anew and continue through to 12pm (which is roughly mid-day) and until 11:45pm (or 23:59). The ancient Jews, however, counted not from mid-night but from sunrise. Thus, the hours of the day began at dawn (which was the first hour, called “Prime”) and continued through to the sixth hour (which was about mid-day) and until the twelfth hour (about sunset). The hours of the night were generally calculated according to four “watches”, though there were often only three watches in the summer months (when the night was shorter).
To recognize the relation of the modern method to the ancient we offer the following table:
Modern method
Ancient Jewish method
First hour
Third hour
Sixth hour
Ninth hour
Twelfth hour
First watch of the night
Second watch of the night
Third watch
Till about 6am
Forth watch

Hence, the tenth hour would be about four in the afternoon.
How long was that first meeting?
St. John specifies that it was late in the afternoon in order to imply both that our Lord was zealous to teach and instruct even at the end of a long day – thus, Theophylus writes “The Evangelist mentions the time of day purposely, as a hint both to teachers and learners, not to let time interfere with their work.” (From the Catena Aurea)
Further, we are to understand that this first meeting did not end abruptly with sunset (so as to last only two or three hours), but rather continued through the whole night. Thus, St. Augustine: “What a blessed day they spent, what a blessed night!” (Tractate vii on John)
How blessed indeed this first night which John and Andrew spent with our Lord, conversing with him, being taught by the Word of God who imparts all knowledge.  
The mystery of the tenth hour
While it is true that the tenth hour does correspond to four in the afternoon, it is nevertheless unfortunate that the English lectionary converts the time. Indeed, there is a great mystery related to us in the signification of the number ten.
Consider the interpretation of St. Augustine:
“Do we think that it did in no wise pertain to the evangelist to tell us what hour it was? Is it possible that he wished us to give heed to nothing in that, to inquire after nothing? It was the tenth hour. That number signifies the law, because the law was given in ten commandments. But the time had come for the law to be fulfilled by love, because it could not be fulfilled by the Jews by fear. Hence the Lord says, I am not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill. [Matthew 5:17]
“Suitably, then, at the tenth hour did these two follow Him, at the testimony of the friend of the Bridegroom, and that He at the tenth hour heard Rabbi (which is interpreted, Master). If at the tenth hour the Lord heard Rabbi, and the tenth number pertains to the law, the master of the law is no other than the giver of the law. Let no one say that one gave the law, and that another teaches the law: for the same teaches it who gave it; He is the Master of His own law, and teaches it. And mercy is in His tongue, therefore mercifully teaches He the law, as it is said regarding wisdom, The law and mercy does she carry in her tongue. [Proverbs 31:26]
“Do not fear that you are not able to fulfill the law, flee to mercy. If you cannot fulfill the law, make use of that covenant, make use of the bond, make use of the prayers which the heavenly One, skilled in the law, has ordained and composed for you.” (Tractate vii on John)


Chatto said...

Another great post, Father! I was at a Scripture day yesterday hosted by Dominicans, and we had a Lectio in the middle of the day on this passage - I was wondering why the other disciple wasn't named, and why the 10th hour is specifically recorded. Thanks for the info! FYI, here in England, the Lectionary does say "the tenth hour". Here's hoping ICEL get cracking on a new Lectionary for you!

Howard said...

I thought you would bring up the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-15)

[1] The kingdom of heaven is like to an householder, who went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. [2] And having agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard. [3] And going out about the third hour, he saw others standing in the market place idle. [4] And he said to them: Go you also into my vineyard, and I will give you what shall be just. [5] And they went their way. And again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did in like manner.

[6] But about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing, and he saith to them: Why stand you here all the day idle? [7] They say to him: Because no man hath hired us. He saith to them: Go you also into my vineyard.

The calling of the apostles was late in the day, but not quite so late yet as the eleventh hour. This might mean that most of human history (and consequently salvation history) is behind us, but the end was not to come right away.

Dawn Eden Goldstein said...

Thanks so much for posting this. I had heard "four o'clock" in today's reading of the passage you cite, and wondered why the time merited mention.

Irenaeus of New York said...

Just another reason why the Douay Rheims is such a valuable translation. It keeps the "10th hour" without doing a dynamic equivalence.

Great post Father!

Unknown said...

Great post!

Vince C said...

"Just another reason why the Douay Rheims is such a valuable translation. It keeps the "10th hour" without doing a dynamic equivalence."

As does the RSV-CE.

Another interpretation I've heard of this is that, since Jesus died for our sins on the ninth hour (see Matthew 27:45), all that comes after then is the tenth hour, i.e., the time that Jesus draws all men to himself and teaches them, and they come to be his disciples.

juancho said...

Another reflection is about how the Apostle remembered so well the details of his calling, the day and the hour of when his life changed. So should we remember the day and hour of our conversion, our calling, our yes, our fiat.
So was I told by my spiritual director before writing my letter... it was the "9th hour", on the eve of the assumption!

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