Gospel: Mark 13:33-37
What is the greatest hope in life? Why don't many people realize their hopes and dreams?
Between immediate gratification and long-term goals lies anticipation, the spirit that gives purpose to our daily routines. We will postpone today's pleasures when we can wait for something better. While we may not change our day to day lives in the short term, focused patience will help us achieve our goals in the long term. Anticipation requires persistence and vigilance.
What do we anticipate at the holidays? Quality family time? More toys? Or, something greater? The coming of the Lord.
Jesus told his followers:
33 Be on the look out! You don't know when it's the right time for the Messiah to come. 34 Think of a man who left his home and went on a trip. Before he left, he told to his servants to do their own jobs. And he ordered the doorman to stay awake all night long. 35 Be on the look out! You don't know when the Lord of our house will come. Maybe he will come in the evening, in the middle of the night, or just before dawn. 36 If he suddenly arrives, do not let him find you sleeping. 37 What I tell you now, I tell everyone. Be on the look out!
Jesus said to his disciples
33 Look out! Stay awake! For you do not know when it is the right moment. 34 (It is) like a traveling man, having left his house and having given his slaves responsibility for their own tasks and to the doorman he commanded to stay awake. 35 Stay awake, then! For you do not know when the Master of the house will come: the evening, the middle of the night, the cock-crowing time, or morning. 36 Having arrived suddenly, may he not find you sleeping. 37 What I say to you I say to everyone: Stay awake!
13:33 " . . . traveling man . . . " is literally " . . . a man away on a journey . . . "
" . . . his slaves responsibility for their own tasks . . . " is literally " . . . to his slaves authority, to each one his work . . . "
" . . . he commanded to stay awake" is literally " . . . he gave the command so he might stay awake."
To begin this new liturgical cycle, Mark wrote a simple message: Stay awake for the Lord! These passages end Jesus' discourse on the end times. He introduced the destruction of the Temple (13:2, 7-9, 14-20), the persecution of faithful (13:9-13), the rise of the Anti-Christ (13:5-6, 21-23) and the Second Coming (13:24-26). Mark laced the theme of watchfulness throughout the discourse.
In spite of the signs, Jesus urged an attitude, not a special knowledge of the right conditions for the Lord's return. Notice the text does not specify a time frame for the end. A close reading of Mark 13 lists conditions or events that can happen at different times, in different places.
Jesus told his followers to stay awake or keep a night watch. His command in the context of these passages has two implications. First, Jesus urged his followers to look for a future event. In a culture that concentrated only on present (and pressing) conditions, future events were shoved out of mind. What could be put off until tomorrow usually was delayed. When the subject of the end times arose, however, Jesus railed against procrastination. While we moderns may feel comfortable with the future-oriented mentality of his message, Jesus shocked his contemporaries. [13:33]
Second, Jesus implied the keep of a night watch for a house. The term "house" referred to a family as well as a dwelling. [13:34-35] To Mark's audience of now-Jewish Christians, the local faithful met as a house-church. Distant from their Jewish roots and ignored by their contemporaries, Mark's audience gathered in someone's home, like an extended family. The master of the house (i.e., the ascended Lord) may have been gone, but he left everyone with a ministry, including the doorman who barred the door to the outside so all could be safe. (An interesting side note: the doorman or porter in the early church had the power to admit the faithful. He was a lookout, alerting the community to any outside danger. And, like a sergeant-at-arms, he also had the responsibility to maintain order at church functions. The office of porter was an ordained ministry in the Roman Catholic Church until it was suppressed in the late 1960's.) [13:34]
The night of the watch resonated with Mark's community. It symbolized social prejudice and persecution. Alone and afraid, this community looked throughout the dark night for the coming of their Savior, so justice would reign. But, when would the Lord return? Just after the persecution began, in the midst of the troubles, or when the community seemed doomed? The four watches of the night listed in 13:35 (evening or 6:00 P.M. to 9:00 P.M., the middle of the night or 9:00 P.M. to midnight, the cock-crowing time or midnight to 3:00 P.M., and dawn or 3:00 P.M. to 6:00 P.M.) indicated increasing darkness. Symbolically, they symbolized deeper despair or resignation in the community. The community would focus more upon their own problems than an expectation for the Lord. Fear would induce a "sleep," as ministry lost its sense of mission.
(An alternate interpretation saw the darkness of night as complacency in a spiritually dying community. Without focus or purpose, such a community would become exclusive and stagnate. The followers would "fall asleep," and ministry would lose its vitality.) [13:34-35]
No matter how we interpret 13:35, Mark focused upon expectation. How would the returning Lord be welcomed? Would the servants be doing their work? Or would fear and complacency cause a "slumber" in ministry? A ministry either too timid to be of use or on "automatic" is not effective at all. So, Jesus warned against those in ministry would lose their edge. We who serve others should stay vigilant. [13:36-37]
Catechism Theme: Hope of a New Heaven and a New Earth (CCC 1042-1050)
Hope is the basis for a watchful and vigilant spirit. The Lord will come. And in the blink of an eye, God will change everything. We will truly become the "body of Christ," risen and glorified together, for we will live forever with the Father. As God renews us, he will also renew the universe to its pristine state. The Father will transform both humanity and nature to the way he intended them to be from the first moment of creation--free from sin, sickness, and death--free from the consequences of evil.
In our anticipation for the Lord's coming, we hope that our faith will help reveal the Kingdom and prepare others for eternity. Our efforts alone will not bring about the Kingdom, as if we humans can progress or evolve to a higher plane by ourselves. But, God, acting through us, will reveal and realize the Kingdom. Then, we act according to his will, we add our contribution to his activity.
What is your greatest hope for the holidays? How does your hope match God's? Explain.
Obviously, our anticipation for the Lord cannot be reduced to a plan or process that will guarantee a certain result. God has his own ways. If we wish to participate in the Lord's plan, anticipate his coming, we need the virtue of patient vigilance. To watch for the Lord in this way requires prayer, reflective discernment, and the gifts and fruits of the Spirit, those charisms that serve others. Prayer opens us to God's will. Reflective discernment helps point us the way of his will. And the gifts God gave us for the good of others help us to realize the Lord in others. When we can see a glimpse of the Lord in our service, we will be able to recognize his return and celebrate it in joy.
What do you want for Christmas? Take a piece of paper and divide it into two columns. Mark one column "Mine" and the other "God's." Now make an honest list of your wants and desires for the holidays. You may be surprised how many things you list under "God's" column. Pray over your list as you prepare for the Christmas. And get ready for the coming of the Lord.