First Sunday of Advent (Year A) "Wisdom in Expectation of the Son of Man"
Blessed Bartholomew Sheki, martyr of Japan; St. Virgilius of Salzburg, bishop
Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord
Wisdom in Expectation of the Son of Man
At the beginning of the Advent season and the beginning of a new liturgical year, we recall once again the missionary character of every Mass and, as we wait for the coming of the Lord, we ponder the two most important aspects presented in this Sunday’s Gospel.
1. The Missionary and Advent Character of Every Mass
It will be appropriate to take up what we emphasized already last year, from the very beginning of our adventure with the Word of God:
The missionary nature is intrinsic in every mass, because it is the active community witness of the Christian faith of the participants. The link between the mass celebrated and the mission of the Church it is clear from the dismissal that sounds in the original Latin “Ite missa est” (hence the name mass for the Eucharistic celebration). As Pope Benedict XVI teaches us, “[The dismissal ‘Ite, missa est’,] helps us to grasp the relationship between the Mass just celebrated and the mission of Christians in the world. In antiquity, missa simply meant ‘dismissal.’ However, in Christian usage it gradually took on a deeper meaning. The word ‘dismissal’ has come to imply a ‘mission.’ These few words succinctly express the missionary nature of the Church. The People of God might be helped to understand more clearly this essential dimension of the Church’s life, taking the dismissal as a starting-point.” (Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum caritatis, 22 February 2007, n. 51).
The missionary nature of the mass emerges even more clearly and reaches its culmination in the acclamation after the consecration of the bread and the wine into Christ’s body and blood. The priest proclaims Mysterium fidei “The mystery of faith”, and people answer: Mortem tuam annuntiamus, Domine, et tuam resurrectionem confitemur, donec venias “We proclaim your Death, O Lord, and profess your Resurrection, until You come again.”
This liturgical action highlights the vocation of every Christian in today’s world to be herald/witness of the paschal mysteries of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection, until His second coming.
Indeed, in front of the Eucharistic Jesus, every participant is called to solemnly confirm the mission He Himself has entrusted to the Church, the community of the faithful: “Go and…tell”, “Go… and proclaim the good news”, “you will be my witnesses”. This mission must be carried out until the return of Christ, as recalled by the Second Vatican Council: “And so the time for missionary activity extends between the first coming of the Lord and the second, in which latter the Church will be gathered from the four winds like a harvest into the kingdom of God. For the Gospel must be preached to all nations before the Lord shall come” (AG 9). This means that our present time is always a time of mission, donec venias “until [You] come again”.
This general liturgical-missionary context should be experienced particularly in the Eucharistic celebration of the days and Sundays of Advent, when, through the prayers and readings provided for each Mass, the aspect of waiting for the Lord’s coming is emphasized.
2. A Call to Wisdom in the Expectation of the Son of Man
Today’s Gospel teaching is taken from the Gospel of Matthew and is found within Jesus’ discourse on the end times (Mt 24-25). The first part focuses on the coming of the Son of Man, while the second part provides the recommendation to stay awake.
Jesus compares his coming with “the days of Noah”. The comparison is very appropriate to emphasize the two characteristics of the time of the “coming”: “universal flood” and “salvation of individuals.” It should be mentioned that the reference to Noah is found again in 1Pt 3:20-21; 2Pt 2:5; Heb 11:7 (to be read for meditation), again in this flood-salvation perspective. This hints at the popularity of Jesus’ original thought among early Christians.
Moreover, as a master-rabbi in the Jewish tradition, Jesus makes the comparison explicit in a “haggadic” manner, that is, by illustrating the matter through stories. He, in his explanation, mentions two pairs of typical human actions (each pair represents the stylistic figure of “merism,” that is, the indication of two complementary aspects to describe the totality). The first pair is “eating-drinking” to express all human activities in the present moment, while “marrying and giving in marriage” (or rather “taking wife-husband”) somehow hints at concern for the future. Moreover, this series of verbs most likely alludes to a life among pleasures and celebrations, without paying attention to the other more important things going on around. Indeed, St. Paul also denounced this kind of life in Rom 13:13: “Let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and lust, not in rivalry and jealousy” (Reading 2). Not surprisingly, in fact, living in this way “They did not know until the flood came and carried them all away” (lit. ἔγνωσαν “they knew/seeked to understand” as in v.43!).
Apparently, we have here the key phrase of Jesus’ teaching: ignorance does not save you from death, indeed in the face of it there is no so-called “innocent ignorance” or “good faith.” It is an attitude similar to “letting go” and a certain resignation. Here ignorance is foolishness, because man “ignores,” that is, rejects, the signs of the times, and closes himself in his usual “normal” thoughts and practices, in his own “spiritual superficiality,” as one exegete has well commented: “The generation of the flood is not condemned for its immorality, but for its spiritual superficiality” (R. Fabris, Matthew, Borla, Rome 1996). In the biblical authors, in fact, here is the typical phrase on the lips of “this generation.” “Eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!” (Is 22:13; cf. 1Cor 15:31). From Jesus’ critical observation emerges an implicit message with a strong sapiential slant: “Oh man, open your eyes! Awaken For your life! For there is an end, indeed, the end of everything, for there is God. The fool, instead, continues to think: “There is no God” (cf. Ps 14; Ps 53), and feels secure in his “ignorance” (cf. Prv 14:16; 15:14).
It is accentuated, therefore, at the end of this first part of Jesus’ teaching. We hear of the final situation on that day of coming, again with the use of the complementary pairs of images (“merism”) to express, on the one hand, the totality, the universality of judgment (“man-woman,” “in the field-home [at the mill]”), and on the other hand, the real possibility of being saved or lost (be taken - be left). Everything is possible; nothing is taken for granted or certain, except that there will be “parousia,” that is, the coming of the Lord.
3. “Therefore, Stay Awake! For You Do Not Know...”
This is the central recommendation that Jesus leaves with his disciples not only for today or for this Advent season, but also for their entire lives. The phrase is repeated in Mt 25:13, at the end of the parable of the ten virgins! This gives a glimpse of the importance of this teaching, which incidentally is also evident here in today’s gospel, because Jesus reinforces and develops his own recommendation with a series of exhortations from the same perspective.
The first deepening exhortation is an invitation to the wisdom of the mind to live and survive: “Be sure of this...” (lit. “[re]know/know” – verb as in v.38). The mention of the time of the thief’s coming turns out to be interesting. This is the almost proverbial image, repeated in the NT but unsympatheticly because it is strongly negative (cf. 1Thes 5:2; 2Pt 3:10; Rv 3:3; 16:15). However, it is not about the parallel between the persons (Jesus and the thief), but between the unpredictability of the two moments. We must therefore learn to prepare ourselves to defend the house of the soul against all unpredictability; we must learn to foresee the unexpected! The only certainty in life: the Son of Man will come (v.37,39,44).
And here is Jesus’ final advice: “you also must be prepared,” or, literally, “be/become ready/prepared” (v.44). The sapiential invitation from earlier (“Be sure of this...”) becomes a kind of heartfelt existential recommendation! The recommended preparedness clearly connects with the seriousness of life: not in spending the time from feast to feast, between eating and drinking, but in constant spiritual preparation with wisdom and awe, like an athlete training to face an important race, according to the divine advice in Prv 23:17-21 e Rom 13:11-14 (to be read for meditation). All this is because “at an hour you do not expect [lit. “think/presume”], the Son of Man will come.” he insists again on openness of mind and thought: It will not be as you see it! Therefore, be vigilant! Be awake! Always pay attention (to the coming of the Son of Man, his words and deeds)! Become wise! So much so that in the Eastern tradition, before proclaiming the Gospel, the deacon “cries out”: Sofia “wisdom” to call attention.
We have begun a new liturgical year, a new Advent Season. May it also be the beginning of a new stage of wise and vigilant living as we await the coming of the Lord. Let us perhaps pay more attention to the sure realities of the end, to the spiritual and supernatural things of life, and especially to the voice of the Lord who calls and accompanies each/all of us in every moment and daily situation, in particular, during every Eucharistic celebration. We train ourselves even more in listening to the Lord through assiduous reading of His Word in the Holy Scriptures, in being in communion with Him in constant prayer, and in frequent vigil. This is in order to keep His Holy Spirit, the Wisdom that comes from above, in us more and more in the midst of the chaos, confusions, and bewilderments of the world. Such acts, I would like to emphasize even now, will help us to be vigilant, indeed, fervent in waiting, to strengthen hearts; they will remind us of the duty to walk in holiness towards “that day” of final salvation with the Lord; and they will kindle the enthusiasm of witnessing the dead and risen Christ to all, donec veniat “until He comes.” Amen. Maranathà!