Sunday, November 28, 2010
Always be ready
God can come to us at any moment
Matthew 24, 37-44
1. Opening prayer
Lord Jesus, send your Spirit to help us to read the Scriptures with the same mind that you read them to the disciples on the way to Emmaus. In the light of the Word, written in the Bible, you helped them to discover the presence of God in the disturbing events of your sentence and death. Thus, the cross that seemed to be the end of all hope became for them the source of life and of resurrection.
Create in us silence so that we may listen to your voice in Creation and in the Scriptures, in events and in people, above all in the poor and suffering. May your word guide us so that we too, like the two disciples from Emmaus, may experience the force of your resurrection and witness to others that you are alive in our midst as source of fraternity, justice and peace. We ask this of you, Jesus, son of Mary, who revealed to us the Father and sent us your Spirit. Amen.
a) Key for reading:
In the Liturgy of the first Sunday of Advent, the Church places us before an extract of the discourse of Jesus on the end of the world. Advent means Coming. It is the time of preparation for the coming of the Son of Man into our life. Jesus exhorts us to be vigilant. He asks us to be attentive to the events in order to discover in them the hour of the coming of the Son of Man.
At the beginning of Advent, it is important to purify our look and to learn anew how to read the events in the light of the Word of God. And this in order not to be surprised, because God comes without telling us, when we less expect him. To show how we should be attentive to the events, Jesus goes back to the episode of the deluge in the time of Noah.
During the reading of the text, let us pay attention to the comparisons which Jesus uses to transmit his message.
b) A division of the text to help in the reading:
Matthew 24, 37-39: The coming of the Son of Man will arrive as in the days of Noah
Matthew 24, 40-41: Jesus applies the comparison to those who listen
Matthew 24, 42: The conclusion: “Stay awake”; be “Vigilant”.
Matthew 24, 43-44: A comparison to recommend vigilance.
c) The text:
37 'As it was in Noah's day, so will it be when the Son of man comes. 38 For in those days before the Flood people were eating, drinking, taking wives, taking husbands, right up to the day Noah went into the ark, 39 and they suspected nothing till the Flood came and swept them all away. This is what it will be like when the Son of man comes. 40 Then of two men in the fields, one is taken, one left; 41 of two women grinding at the mill, one is taken, one left.
42 'So stay awake, because you do not know the day when your master is coming. 43 You may be quite sure of this, that if the householder had known at what time of the night the burglar would come, he would have stayed awake and would not have allowed anyone to break through the wall of his house. 44 Therefore, you too must stand ready because the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect.
3. A moment of prayerful silence
so that the Word of God may penetrate and enlighten our life.
4. Some questions
to help us in our personal reflection.
i) Which part of the text struck you most? Why?
ii) Where, when and why did Jesus pronounce this discourse?
iii) In what exactly does this vigilance consist, to which Jesus exhorts us?
iv) “One is taken, one left”. What does Jesus want to teach with this affirmation?
v) At the time of Matthew, the Christian community, in a certain sense, expected the coming of the Son of Man. And today, which is our way of waiting for the coming of Jesus?
vi) According to you, which is the centre or origin of this teaching of Jesus?
5. For those who desire to go deeper into the theme
a) Context of the discourse of Jesus:
The Gospel of Matthew -
In the Gospel of Matthew there are five great discourses, as if it were a new edition of the five books of the Law of Moses. The text on which we are meditating this Sunday forms part of the fifth Discourse of this New Law, Each one of the preceding four discourses enlightens a determinate aspect of the Kingdom of God announced by Jesus. The first one: the justice of the Kingdom and the conditions to enter into the Kingdom (Mt from 5 to 7). The second one: the mission of the citizens of the Kingdom (Mt 10). The third one: the mysterious presence of the Kingdom in the life of the people (Mt 13). The fourth one: to live the Kingdom in community (Mt 18). The fifth Sermon speaks of vigilance in view of the definitive coming of the Kingdom. In this last discourse, Matthew continues the outline of Mark (cf. Mk 13, 5-37), but adds some parables which speak about the need of vigilance and of service, of solidarity and of fraternity.
Waiting for the coming of the Son of Man -
At the end of the first century, the communities lived expecting the immediate coming of Jesus (I Th 5, 1-11). Basing themselves on some words of Paul (I Th 4, 15-18), there were some persons who had ceased to work thinking that Jesus was about to arrive (2 Th 2, 1-2; 3, 11-12). They asked themselves: When Jesus comes, will we be taken up to Heaven as he was? (cfr. I Th 4, 17). Will we be taken or left behind? (cfr. Mt 24, 40-41). There was an atmosphere similar to that of today, in which many ask themselves: “Is this terrorism a sign that the end of the world is close at hand?” What should we do in order not to be surprised?” An answer to this question and concern comes to us from the words of Jesus which Matthew transmits to us in the Gospel of this Sunday.
b) Comment on the text:
Matthew 24, 37-39: Jesus compares the coming of the Son of Man to the days of the deluge
“As it was in Noah’s day, so it will be when the Son of Man comes”. Here, in order to clarify his call to vigilance, Jesus refers to two episodes of the Old Testament: Noah and the Son of Man. The “days of Noah” refer to the description of the deluge (Gen 6,5 to 8,14).
The image of the “Son of Man” comes from a vision of the prophet Daniel (Dan 7, 13). In the days of Noah the majority of persons lived without any concern, without being aware that in the events the hour of God was getting near. Life continued “and they were not aware of anything until the deluge came and drowned them all”. And Jesus concludes: “Thus it will be when the Son of Man comes”. In the vision of Daniel, the Son of Man will come on the clouds unexpectedly and his coming will decree the end of the oppressing empires, which will have no future.
Matthew 24, 40-41: Jesus applies the comparison to those who listen to him.
“Two men will be in the fields: one is taken, one left”. These phrases should not be taken literally. It is a way to indicate the diverse destiny that persons will receive according to the justice of the works they did. Some will be taken, that is, will receive salvation, and others will not receive it. This is what happened in the deluge: “You alone of your contemporaries do I see before me as an upright man” (Gen 7, 1). And Noah and his family were saved.
Matthew 24, 42: Jesus draws the conclusion: “So stay awake”, be vigilant.
God is the one who determines the hour of the coming of the Son. But God’s time is not measured by our clock or calendar. For God one day can be equal to a thousand years, and a thousand years equal to one day (Ps 90; 2 Pt 3, 8). God’s time (kairos) is independent from our time (cronos). We cannot interfere in God’s time, but we should be prepared for the moment in which God’s hour becomes present in our time. It can be today, it can be from now in one thousand years.
Matthew 24, 43-44: comparison: the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect.
God comes when we less expect him. It can also happen that He comes and people are not aware of the hour of his arrival. Jesus asks for two things: an always attentive vigilance and at the same time, a peaceful dedication of the one who is in peace. This attitude is a sign of much maturity, in which are mixed the vigilant concern and the serene tranquillity. The maturity which succeeds to combine the seriousness of the moment with the awareness that everything is relative.
c) Broadening the information in order to better understand the text:
How should we be vigilant to prepare ourselves? - Our text is preceded by the parable of the fig tree (Mt 24, 32-33). The fig tree was a symbol of the people of Israel (Os 9, 10; Mt 21, 18). In asking to look at the fig tree, Jesus asks to look and to analyze the facts that are taking place. It is as if Jesus would say to us: “You should learn from the fig tree to read the signs of the times, and in this way you would discover where and when God breaks into our history!”
The certainty communicated to us by Jesus - Jesus leaves us a twofold certainty to orientate our journey in life: (1) surely the end will come; (2) certainly, nobody knows anything about the day or hour of the end of the world. “But as for that day and hour, nobody knows it, neither the angels in Heaven nor the Son, no one but the Father alone!” (Mt 24, 36). In spite of all the estimates or calculations that men can do on the date of the end of the world, nobody can calculate with certainty. What gives security is not the knowledge of the hour of the end, but the Word of Jesus present in life. the world will pass but his Word will never pass. (cfr. Is 40, 7-8).
When will the end of the world come? - When the bible speaks about the “end of the World”, it refers not to the end of the world, but to the end of a world. It refers to the end of this world, where injustice and the power of evil reign; these which embitter life. This world of injustice will come to an end and in its place there will be “a new heavens and a new earth”, announced by Isaiah (Is 65, 15–17) and foreseen in the Apocalypse (Ap 21, 1). Nobody knows when nor how the end of this world will be (Mt 24, 36), because nobody can imagine what God has prepared for those who love him (I Co 2, 9). The new world of life without death exceeds everything, just like the tree exceeds the seed (I Co 15, 35-38). The first Christians were anxious to be present in this end (2 Th 2,2). They continued to look up at heaven, waiting for the coming of Christ (Acts 1, 11). Some no longer worked (2 Th 3, 11). But “It is not for you to know times or dates that the Father has decided by his own authority” (Acts 1, 7). The only way to contribute to the coming of the end “in order that the Lord may send the time of comfort” (Acts 3, 20), and give witness of the Gospel everywhere, to the earth’s remotest end (Acts 1, 8).
6. Prayer: Psalm 46 (45)
“God is our refuge! We shall not be afraid!”
God is both refuge and strength for us,
a help always ready in trouble;
so we shall not be afraid though the earth be in turmoil,
though mountains tumble into the depths of the sea,
and its waters roar and seethe,
and the mountains totter as it heaves.
There is a river whose streams bring joy to God's city,
it sanctifies the dwelling of the Most High.
God is in the city, it cannot fall;
at break of day God comes to its rescue.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms are tumbling,
when he raises his voice the earth crumbles away.
Yahweh Sabaoth is with us, our citadel,
the God of Jacob.
Come, consider the wonders of Yahweh,
the astounding deeds he has done on the earth;
he puts an end to wars over the whole wide world,
he breaks the bow,
he snaps the spear,
shields he burns in the fire.
'Be still and acknowledge that I am God,
supreme over nations, supreme over the world.'
Yahweh Sabaoth is with us, our citadel, the God of Jacob.
7. Final Prayer
Lord Jesus, we thank for the word that has enabled us to understand better the will of the Father. May your Spirit enlighten our actions and grant us the strength to practice that which your Word has revealed to us. May we, like Mary, your mother, not only listen to but also practise the Word. You who live and reign with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.