Sunday

“Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.” (v. 42)

Matthew 24:36-44 Sunday 27 November 2016

Psalm: Psalm 122


Background

As Advent dawns we hear an alarm call. The days are short anddark (in the northern hemisphere) but we must wake up and bewatchful. "Watch and pray" urges the chant from Taizé (Singing the Faith 780), usingwords from the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36) when Jesus calls upon hisdisciples to remain with him, to watch and to pray. As the Churchbegins the Advent penitential journey towards Christmas, it is nobad thing to be reminded that watchfulness is a mark ofdiscipleship at any time of the year.

Matthew's Gospel sets this passage at the end of a series ofdetailed prophecies about the end of the age, and just before threelong parables which are also about the 'end times' (oreschatology). Throughout the chapter the dominant theme ofwatchfulness is set against a background which can only bedescribed as universal ignorance. Whereas we might have expectedthe teaching on the end times (Matthew 24:1-35) to culminate in some idea ofwhen this might occur, instead we discover that no-one knows thedate. Not humans, not angels, not Jesus, only "the Father" (v.36).

The climactic, unexpected nature of this coming event iscompared to the days of Noah when the people "knew nothing untilthe flood came and swept them all away" (v. 39). Noah's generationare here depicted, not as the sinful brood of Genesis 6:5-8 but as engaged in the necessary,natural activities of eating, drinking and marrying. Like1st-century Jews, like 21st-century Christians, they were goingabout normal life, with no idea of what was about to take place.The same could happen at any time, Jesus implies, men workingtogether in the field, women working together in the home could,with no warning, find themselves divided - one taken, one left(verses 40-41). So the charge is to keep awake because, as Jesusmakes very plain in a direct statement to his hearers: "You do notknow on which day your Lord is coming."

In the final illustration, that of housebreaking, there is somesuggestion that, although the timing of the coming is unknown,wakefulness and watchfulness can pre-empt disaster. Jesus is notsaying that his coming will violate, as a thief's does, but ratherthat it will be as sudden and unannounced as a burglary. The onlyway to prepare for an unexpected arrival is to be ready all thetime.


To Ponder

  • This first week in Advent (the first week of the new liturgicalyear) has been given the theme 'Justice and Sacrifice'. Try tospend a few moments each day reflecting on those two words.
  • The normal activities of life are not judged or prohibited inthis passage, all of us are engaged in such ways most of the time.But how can you cultivate an 'inner watchfulness', listening to theSpirit, even as you go about your business?
  • What are the 'holy habits' or spiritual disciplines which mighthelp you to remain alert and watchful during this Advent (andbeyond)? 


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