November 30, 2014
1st Sunday of Advent
[Jesus said to the disciples:] 33 Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man traveling abroad. He leaves home and places his servants in charge, each with his work, and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch. 35 Watch, therefore; you do not know when the lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning. 36 May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping. 37 What I say to you, I say to all: 'Watch!'"
With the first Sunday of Advent, a new liturgical year begins. During this year most of the gospels will be drawn from the Gospel of Mark. Because Mark is the shortest of the gospels, some texts throughout the year will also come from the Gospel of John. Drawing on John’s Gospel during this liturgical year helps the church have a fuller appreciation of John’s Gospel, which is generally only used during Lent and Eastertide during the other two years of the liturgical cycle. During Advent, only the first two Sundays draw on the Gospel of Mark.
The gospel texts for Advent draw the reader into a world that longs for the presence of God, and invites each person to be in touch with their own longing for God’s presence. But at the time of Jesus, people lived in the present. Their instruments for measuring time were less sophisticated and less accurate. Daily life and survival demanded that people pay attention to the tasks at hand. Suggesting that people look toward the future, even the future near at hand, required a significant shift in thinking. Mark’s emphasis on the need to be vigilant for the time when the Master will return would have been strange for people of the day.
The word “servant” in the text would probably be more accurately translated “slave.” While slaves were a common part of the social fabric of Jesus’ time, they did not endure the type of slavery that many assume when they hear the word. Slaves in this culture were considered intregral members of the household. Women and children could be sold into slavery in order to pay off a family debt. Slaves who were part of a Christian house were cautioned against taking advantage of that fact that they were “brothers” or “sisters” of their masters. The Jews with whom Jesus lived would have also understood themselves as being slaves of God. Because God had freed them from their slavery to the Egyptians, God had become their new Master.
The hours that are mentioned in the parable--evening, midnight, cockcrow, and morning-- were the hours of watch for the Roman soldiers. Palestinians would have used first, second, and third watch. They were the times when it was dark and people were most vulnerable to attack from an enemy. Jesus is exhorting his disciples to be like soldiers, standing guard against any attempt from an evil enemy who might try to take advantage of the vulnerability of those who are asleep. By remaining vigilant, the disciple remains strong to protect the relationship with the Master.
1. What is your experience of returning home after being away for a long time or late at night? What are some of the things that make your return a good experience? What other things would make it a good experience?
2. When, in your life, have you been most watchful? (i.e. mail bringing notification of acceptance to college, waiting for the doctor to return your call, sitting with the sick waiting for a fever to break, a family member to return from armed services.) What was the waiting like for you? Did you try to stay busy, or was waiting totally consuming? How does that experience impact how you hear this gospel text?
3. Do you know people who are so busy with the tasks of the day that they do not have time or energy to think about the future? How do you think they hear this gospel?
4. How is the experience of waiting for the return of the master different for the servants than for the master of the house?
5. How would the Season of Advent be different if the Church focus moved from us, who are waiting for Jesus’ return, to God, who is waiting for the fullness of God to be present in our lives?
6. What happens within you as the Church enters the season of Advent each year? How is it the same each year? How is it different?
7. What are you waiting for now? Do you know? What is the world waiting for? What is God waiting for? Why wait? Why not just get on with life? What do you learn by waiting? Why is that important?
8. What does this gospel say to you about how you should spend the season of Advent? What does that realistically mean for you?
Reflection questions are written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM. They are edited by Sister Anne Marie Lom, OSF and Joe Thiel. To be added to the distribution list, send your name and email address to email@example.com
A Spanish translation of the reflection questions is made possible by Fernando Alessandrini.
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