You Must Be Ready
A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
Advent I Year A
St. Matthew 24: 37 — 44
A New Church Year
For those readers who do not know it, the Christian Year always begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day, regardless of the date on the secular calendar. This particular Sunday begins a time of preparation obviously, in the first instance at least, for Christmas, the birth of our Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. From the earliest times in the Church, Christians in some way or another, also set time aside to attend to the coming of Jesus Christ into their own lives: to make sure that they understood what this means, and the solemn obligations (as they saw them) of being Christ-bearers. In the same way, they took very seriously His teaching of His return, His second advent, and saw the whole of life as a preparation for this. The season of Advent keeps up this ancient tradition of the Church to help us to be ready at all times for this threefold coming of the Lord: at Bethlehem, into our hearts, and at the end of time.
During this season of about four weeks (formerly much longer), while there is an underlying expectation of sorrow for sin and taking spiritual things for granted, there is, nevertheless, a corresponding theme of joy, of linking to the foundations of that joy which enables us both to receive and give. As a part of this there is an aspect of being cleansed so that we experience unimpeded freedom to go into God’s presence. This side of Advent remains an essential ingredient. To repeat: being cleansed and made fit for God’s presence within, before, and beyond us, is part of the Church’s ancient practice of preparing for Christmas.
The text we will ponder can be a little startling and perplexing. However, the message is actually simple and intended by our Lord to encourage His followers down through the ages to remain firmly on the path He has led them; and not to leave it, even momentarily. So much can cause us to feel uncomfortable at not being entirely in step with trends and fashions in our contemporary society. It is easy to be diverted from the path along which Jesus calls us. We start the Year of Matthew (Year A in the 3 year cycle) with our Lord focussing on His “second coming”. By the time we arrive at Christmas, after four Advent Sunday readings from St. Matthew’s Gospel, we will see the purpose for the sequence of readings chosen. We recommend to our fellow pilgrims not to be so caught up in the affairs of modern life that we forget these spiritual gems the Church has held up to us for our urgent consideration.
Some Reflections On the Text
Verses 37 — 39
For as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of
the Son of Man.
In (those) days before the flood, they were eating and drinking,
marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day that Noah
entered the ark.
They did not know until the flood came and carried them all away.
So will it be (also) at the coming of the Son of Man.
Jesus assumes His listeners would know very well the story of Noah before the flood (see Genesis 6: 9 — 22), in which the people were eating and drinking as usual, as well as marrying and building households. All these are legitimate and appropriate activities, provided one is not totally adsorbed by them. If one’s sensitivity to hearing and obeying God’s word is dulled by involvement in interests and pleasures, then one must accept the consequences. The people of Noah’s time may have been aware of the evils of their time but they failed to see themselves as part of the cause! Jesus is saying, in fact:
“Up to the time when the Son of Man comes people will act in
the same way as they did in the time of Noah.”
This is something of a shock to most of us. We think the world will be converted when our Lord returns. He makes it very clear, it will not!
Verses 40 and 41
Two men will be out in the field; one will be taken, and
one will be left.
Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be
taken, and one will be left.
Jesus gives two illustrations of people going about their lawful occupations together in apparently exactly the same way. Yet suddenly one will be taken into the fullness of God’s Kingdom and the other left out.
Verses 42 and 43
Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know on which
day your Lord will come.
Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known
the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would
have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into.
“Therefore, stay awake — keep watch,” says Jesus, “for you do not
know on which day your Lord will come.” In other words:
“Do not allow your minds to be conformed to the spirit of this age.
The people have forgotten what God is like, and live accordingly.
Be on your guard not to be swept along doing what everyone else
An early 19th century commentator captures what obviously seems to be the level of personal “mobilisation” our Lord calls for:
True Christians ought to live like watchmen. The day of the
Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. They should strive to
be always on their guard. They should behave like the sentinel
of an army in an emeny’s land. They should resolve by God’s
grace not to sleep at their post. That text of St Paul’s deserves
many a thought: “Let us not sleep as do others; but let us watch
and be sober.” (1 Thessalonians 5: 6)
True Christians ought to live like good servants, whose master
is not at home. They should strive to be always ready for their
Master’s return. They should never give way to the feeling,
“My Lord delayeth His coming.” They should seek to keep
their hearts in such a frame, that whenever Christ appears they
may at once give Him a warm and loving reception. There is a
vast depth in the saying, “Blessed is that servant, whom his
Lord when He cometh shall find so doing.” We may well doubt
whether we are true believers in Jesus if we are not ready
at any time to have our faith changed into sight. J. C. Ryle.
So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do
not expect, the Son of Man will come.
Our Lord has made Himself quite clear, but He chooses to highlight yet again His very deep concern. Not only must the followers of the way of Jesus keep watch. They must also go out of their way to be prepared. Usually we remember (when prompted) the stay awake injunction, but give less thought to the being prepared. This is a now matter, and not just a goal to work towards. It is rather demanding and calls for a high priority to be given to knowing His teaching and implementing it in our own situation now. As St. Anselm said, “Not to know the Scriptures is not to know Christ.” True knowledge of the Scriptures, especially the Gospels is at an all time low. How can we be prepared if we do not immerse ourselves in constant listening to Christ the Word of God. It is more than good advice; it is a command: you also must be prepared — see to it!
It is this emphatic and persistent challenge of Jesus, which, over two millennia, had led to the formation of so many types of Christian religious communities, fraternities and institutes for the purpose of guiding their members towards the daily practice of true discipleship. Each has its Rule (See end of paragraph), which is always the essence of the Gospel message conveyed in an ordered way for its members to apply themselves daily with devotion and humility, to the Lord’s call to holiness. If that jars with us we need to fix what is at variance with His teaching. He requires in us a degree of concentration and perseverance, which is genuinely demanding. Fortunately those who respond to His call discover that they are never alone but are called to walk the way with Him and to grow closer and closer in readiness for sharing eternity with Him.
We refer here to our reflection on the 6th Century Rule of St. Benedict,
“A Biblical Vision of the Christian Life” — excellent Advent
reading for all Christians.
In our age of computers and rapid change, it would be easy to slip into a frame of mind, which sees this Gospel text as irrelevant and of little interest other than looking back historically at the rather quaint way Christians, in their naivety took their Messiah so seriously. Many non-Christians absolutely love a small selection of the sayings of Jesus, but His broader teaching doesn’t get a mention. With the earnest disciple, it must be different!
This reading calls each individually, following the example of King David, to embrace a personal Rule of Life; in our case, embodying key concepts of Jesus’ teaching, and to pursue it consistently. Many have found it helpful to write it down and to review it from time to time, always seeking to be brought closer to God. We close with one very simple Messiah-focussed example taken directly from the Book of Psalms:
Psalm 27: A Psalm of David
The Lord is my light and my salvation;
Whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the defense of my life;
Whom shall I dread?
2 When evildoers came upon me to devour my flesh,
My adversaries and my enemies, they stumbled and fell.
3 Though a host encamp against me,
My heart will not fear;
Though war arise against me,
In spite of this I shall be confident.
4 One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of the Lord
And to meditate in His temple.
5 For in the day of trouble He will conceal me in His tabernacle;
In the secret place of His tent He will hide me;
He will lift me up on a rock.
6 And now my head will be lifted up above my enemies around me,
And I will offer in His tent sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing, yes, I will sing praises to the Lord.
7 Hear, O Lord, when I cry with my voice,
And be gracious to me and answer me.
8 When You said, “Seek My face,” my heart said to You,
“Your face, O Lord, I shall seek.”
9 Do not hide Your face from me,
Do not turn Your servant away in anger;
You have been my help;
Do not abandon me nor forsake me,
O God of my salvation!
10 For my father and my mother have forsaken me,
But the Lord will take me up.
11 Teach me Your way, O Lord,
And lead me in a level path
Because of my foes.
12 Do not deliver me over to the desire of my adversaries,
For false witnesses have risen against me,
And such as breathe out violence.
13 I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord
In the land of the living.
14 Wait for the Lord;
Be strong and let your heart take courage;
Yes, wait for the Lord.
For an introduction to Saint Matthew’s Gospel Click here
For one example of a Christian Rule of Life Click here.
For those who would like a detailed study resource
on the readings for Sunday, please visit:
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Let us remember God’s Teaching, contained in His Word and in doing so,
You Must Be Ready
Advent 1 Year A St. Matthew 24: 25 — 33
1 “As it was in the days of Noah.” These can be disturbing words, as we
2. The people of Noah’s time may have been aware of the evils of their
3 The key lesson of our reading: “You must be ready!” is one of the
Let us pray for one another that as followers of Jesus, our Messiah, we
Matthew 24: 37 — 44
Advent 1 Year A
37 23 For as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the
38 In (those) days before the flood, they were eating and
39 They did not know until the flood came and carried them
40 24 Two men will be out in the field; one will be taken, and
41 Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken,
42 25 Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know on which
43 Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the
44 So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do
23 [37-39] Cf ⇒ Luke 17:26-27. In the days of Noah: the Old Testament account of the flood lays no emphasis upon what is central for Matthew, i.e., the unexpected coming of the flood upon those who were unprepared for it.
24 [40-41] Cf ⇒ Luke 17:34-35. Taken . . . left: the former probably means taken into the kingdom; the latter, left for destruction. People in the same situation will be dealt with in opposite ways. In this context, the discrimination between them will be based on their readiness for the coming of the Son of Man.
25 [42-44] Cf ⇒ Luke 12:39-40. The theme of vigilance and readiness is continued with the bold comparison of the Son of Man to a thief who comes to break into a house.
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible,