Short Reflection for the 1st Sunday of Advent – 30 November 2014, entitled “Here and now” presented by Sr Mary Bridget Dunlea, Salesian Sister.
Lectio divina on Mk 13, 33-37 – First Sunday of Advent Year B
The Lord is coming – we know that very well. He has not left us forever. We miss him. Our sense of his absence is his way of being present in our lives. Jesus tells us in today’s gospel that our God is a God on the move, like that householder who was liable to return at any moment. The words of Jesus were an invitation to his disciples to live in hope, and with trust in God. It is true that, like the master in the parable, God seems far away from us, from our homes, from our world and from our hearts. He is on a journey, like the householder in the parable. And like the householder, as Jesus points out, his journey is one of return. In this way Jesus gives us a reason not to lose hope during his absence, even when his coming is delayed. The servant who does not know the time of his master’s return must heed the warning and be always on his guard. He cannot rest, neither by day nor by night, as long as his master is absent and about to return. Anyone who loses hope in his master ceases to obey him.
At that time, Jesus said to his disciples: 33 Take heed, watch and pray, for you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35 Watch therefore — for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning – 36 lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Watch.”
I. Read: understand what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it
This sermon, from Mark 13, is the last sermon of Jesus in Mark’s gospel. He has just foretold the end of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple. To the disciples who were admiring the beauty of the city and of the temple, these two events seemed unthinkable. They signified the end of their world – the destruction of the city of David and the absence of God. It is worth noting that Jesus’ sermon finishes with a repeated exhortation to vigilance.
The sermon is addressed to the disciples and to all those who have an attitude of vigilance as the Christian way of waiting. The exhortation, or rather the order, is repeated three times. Jesus gives a short parable to justify his warning. Not knowing the hour of the master’s coming obliges the servant to wait for him. It imposes on him a permanent state of vigilance.
In addition to justifying the request for vigilance, the parable clarifies the way of behaving expected of a disciple of Christ. When he went away, the Lord left all his servants with responsibilities that varied according to the tasks assigned to them. Each must perform his assigned task, and the doorkeeper must stay awake. The Lord’s absence is not, then, an excuse for inactivity, much less a time to dream. Not knowing the time of the master’s return imposes an obligation on the servants to be busy about their duties. Sleep and rest are forbidden until the master returns.
Living in a state of expectation means passing the day at work, as we await the one to whom we must render an account of our administration. We are still servants. If we do not accept our responsibilities we lose the goods we have received, and we lose hope. Losing hope means missing the Lord when he comes.
II. Meditate: apply what the text says to life
We live in a world that continues, slowly but surely, to reduce, not only the signs of God’s presence among us, but even the footprints he left as he walked among us. We are forgetting our God and this adds to our despair. We try to entertain ourselves with the perishable goods we have been given. And we, the believers, are falling asleep! We are no longer on our guard. Worse still, we seem to be reconciled to this way of life. When we live without faith, happy to be left in peace, undisturbed in our sleep, we give the impression that we too have lost God. Still, the night is not too long. It never is for one who has hope, for one who really loves. If our memory of the absent God whom we love were a bit clearer, the waiting would be less of a burden and would not seem so long. If we really missed him, would we not wait more eagerly for his coming?
As Christians, we believe that the Lord is coming. He is our Future! If we really believe this, then we should be witnesses of hope to the world. If God still has enough trust in us to come to meet us, we have no right to suffocate the hope that is in us, nor to rob others of hope, by our idleness and sleep. It is because God’s witnesses are asleep that his servants are not vigilant, and God’s absence from our world becomes ever more noticeable, more discouraging and dramatic. We, who call ourselves believers, no longer really believe that the Lord is coming, that he is interested in this world of ours, and that he earnestly desires to return among us. Surely this is the reason for the increase in loneliness to be found in the hearts of believers, and the resigned acceptance that somehow the world of today is no longer in God’s hands.
There is one thing we can be sure of; God will return one day. Indeed, he is already on his way! We Christians should be more wide awake and more active than others, because we know that we can hope in the Lord. We know that he is coming. It is true that we do not know when he will arrive, but we know what he will demand of us. Times are difficult, there is less light in our lives, and more clouds accumulate. For this very reason we should be all the more vigilant. Our faith and our perseverance and fidelity as we wait for the Lord’s coming are a protest – discreet but effective – against the evil that exists in the world, the little world of our own hearts and the larger world around us. Living as Christians means not surrendering to appearances, not despairing in the face of the evil that is so evident today. God is coming – this means that there is something is us and in our world that makes him want to come to us, something is us that is good in his eyes. We still have something that attracts God! This is our reason for hope. And if we have even one reason to wait for the Lord’s coming, that should be enough to make us vigilant.
Meanwhile, to sustain our trust, to shorten the hours of waiting, and to make us desire God’s return with greater sincerity, we can pray. We can ask for ever more palpable signs of his presence. To overcome our loneliness we can call him to our side, crying out from our emptiness despite the clouds that surround us. Then he will know that we desire him and that we are waiting for him, and we will be wide awake because we know he is coming.
Prayer that expresses our longing for him is the surest way to avoid despair, and the best way to stay wake as we keep vigil. Prayer helps us to accept the absence of God, in our own lives and in our world, without losing hope of finding him one day. We could pray, for example, with the words of the prophet: “You, O Lord, are our Father. You have always been our redeemer. Why, then, O Lord, do you allow us to get lost on our way, to harden our hearts that they no longer fear you? Come back for love of your servants… Break open the heavens and come down, melting way the hills with your presence…!”
However, praying is not our only response during the time of waiting. Jesus reminds us that the Lord, like the master in the parable, left each one a task to do. If he left us alone, or if we feel we have been left alone, he certainly did not leave us unemployed. It is not enough, then, to wait. We have a mission to carry out. Christian hope can never be reduced to doing nothing, simply waiting for the one who is to come. Living in hope means being busy with our hands, while our hearts continue to feel the Lord’s absence. We may miss the Lord but that does not mean that we do not have work to do. There is no better way to wait for the Lord’s coming than by doing his will until he arrives.