Franciscan Friar Fr. Paul Gallagher reflects on the Gospel text for the First Sunday of Advent. What is your experience of needing to wait and be vigilant? Are you good at waiting? What do you do with yourself during periods of waiting?
The content is 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. To read or download the complete pdf with excerpts for your prayer, please click here Franciscan Gospel Reflection December 3 2023 Excerpts are 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. Photos: Dendrofil, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons; Mark Kolter.
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!'”
With the first Sunday of Advent, a new liturgical year begins. During this year, most of the Gospels will come from the Gospel of Mark. Because Mark is the shortest of all the Gospels, some texts will also come from the Gospel of John. The Gospel texts in Advent reflect a longing for the presence of God and invite each person to be in touch with their own longing for God.
In the time of Jesus, people lived primarily in the present. Even Jesus exhorted his followers not to “worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will have worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” (Matthew 6:34) Their instruments for measuring time were less sophisticated and less accurate. Today’s Gospel refers to the different watches of the night as the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning. 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 difficult, especially if the time of waiting becomes long.
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 abusive slavery that many assume. Slaves in this culture were considered integral members of the household. Also unusual for us is the fact that 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. These watches 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.
- How do you feel about the cold, shorter days, and the winter that is coming upon the northern half of the earth, as the days grow shorter?
- How does the cycle of nature speak to you of God working in nature and in your own life?
- What is your experience of needing to wait and be vigilant? Are you good at waiting? What do you do with yourself during periods of waiting?
- During periods of absence and waiting, what are the different voices you hear within yourself?
- 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?
- If you imagine that God as the master is addressing us as his servants and placing us in charge of his house, what area of his house has God entrusted to you?
- How can this season of Advent be a season of blessing to you?
- In what way do you need to hear Jesus’ exhortation to be watchful, alert, and awake at this point in your life journey?
- Can you talk to God honestly and frankly about how you are hearing this Gospel and entering the season of Advent? What gifts for yourself would you like ask of God during this season? What gifts would you like to ask for others?