Sunday Scripture Readings

first sunday of advent,

december 1

Isaiah 63:16-17, 19; 64:2-7; Psalm 80;

1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:33-37

OUR GOOD NEWS:Vigilant service now prepares us for the coming of the world-rescuing Christ. We move from disappointment at God's apparent failure to make us faithful and obedient children through His powerful grace (first reading), to thankfulness and hope for His beginning to do just that (second reading). Now, a needed, complementary theme focuses on what we must do to cooperate. Jesus reduced the complexities of Christian living to two imperatives: "Take heed!" (be on guard, watch out) and "Watch!" (Be alert, stay awake, don't grow careless). These two terms are explained, first, by immediate context, a parable with several unusual details. The master of the house isn't down the street partying but on an extended journey abroad. He's obviously away for some time ... out of sight, out of mind. If his servants could not predict his return, they could at least relax at nighttime when travel was dangerous. But count on this master's arrival when quite unexpected, during one of four night watches (three-hour units dividing time from sunset to sunrise). Especially significant is his delegation of responsibilities. "He puts his servants in charge" - literally, "gave his slaves authority, each with his own work." In Mark's Gospel, authority is a technical term, that which Jesus exercised in teaching and working wonders, and later bestowed upon the 12. In secular usage authority meant power to make others do one's own will. Within the Christian community however, all authority is for service, an enabling jurisdiction to function as willing slaves in service of others. Jesus concluded with application to all within the Church, not limited to the first apostles or their successors, and including ordained as well as lay. The revised Code of Canon Law rightly insists that all "Christ's faithful ... are called, each according to his or her particular condition, to exercise the mission which God entrusted to the Church to fulfill in the world" (Canon 204). "Take heed!" and "Watch!" are also explained through the larger context of Mark's Gospel, particularly the Gethsemane story which follows in the next chapter. Sleeping disciples lacked alertness, a failure in watchfulness which resulted in denial of the Master (Peter) and cowardly flight during time of testing (all of them). Constantly in prayer and openness to the Spirit's help would have kept them alert and faithful. But watchfulness doesn't mean wary eye on the door, fearful of being caught unawares by angry divine Judge. It's a lifestyle of productive service uninfluenced by a supervisor's presence or seeming absence. Doing our tasks when we feel like it and others expect and appreciate our service is easy enough. Jesus wisely focused on the "night hours" when discouragement and frustration undermine resolve (Who cares? Who knows? Why bother?). Jesus calls us not to momentary outbursts of heroic acts but to long-term obedience. Imitate His example of perseverance in face of indifference and hostility, of faithful witness exceeding the potential of weak human nature. To "watch" is not anxiety about signs of the Second Coming but attention to daily duties. Our vigil is against threats from without ("false prophets" who distract) and from within (lethargy and sloth). Finally, to "sleep" is to forget that our work has been assigned by the Lord Himself, thus delaying or frustrating its completion.

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