Franciscan Gospel Reflection: First Sunday of Advent

Beginning this First Sunday of Advent, we offer another collaborative Franciscan Gospel post. This weekly Sunday Gospel reflection and questions are written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM. They are edited by Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Anne Marie Lom and Joe Thiel. The excerpts from the Sunday readings are prepared by Joe Thiel. If you would like to read or download the complete pdf with excerpts for your prayer, please click here: Franciscan Gospel Reflection December 3 2017 Excerpts from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner. Please include this information when printing.

Photos: Holy Name of Mary Pro Cathdral, Sault Ste. Marie, MI and Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity Motherhouse St. Mary Chapel, Manitowoc, WI

Mark 13:33-37

[Jesus said to the disciples:]     Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come. 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. 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.  May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!'”

Background

With the first Sunday of Advent, a new liturgical year begins. During this liturgical year, most of the gospels will be drawn from the Gospel of Mark. Because Mark is the shortest of the gospels, some texts 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.  This year, only the first two Sundays of Advent will have gospels from Mark’s Gospel.

The gospel texts for Advent reflect a longing for the presence of God, and they invite each person to be in touch with their own longing for God’s presence. In the time of Jesus, people lived primarily in the present. Jesus exhorted his followers not to “worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will have worries of its own, Today’s troubles are enough for today.” (Matthew 6:34) 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 near future, 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 Jesus and for the people of the day.

The word “servant” in the text would probably be more accurately translated as “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 integral members of the household. Also, 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.

Reflection Questions

  1. Who greets you when you return from a long absence? How would you characterize your experience?
  2. When in your life have you been most watchful?
  3. What is your experience of being entrusted with responsibility in the absence of another? Does that responsibility feel different for you than your own responsibilities?
  4. 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?
  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 this year? How is it the same as previous years, and how is it different?
  7. Jesus exhorts his followers to be watchful, alert, and awake. What are the different ways this exhortation might be meant?
  8. In what way do you need to hear Jesus’ exhortation to be watchful, alert, and awake at this point in your life journey?
  9. Can you talk to God about the place in your own life where you need to hear the words of Jesus in today’s gospel, about your efforts to be watchful, or about some other aspect of your life that you need to bring to God?

 

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