I Say To Everyone: “Watch!”
Advent 1 Year B
A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
St. Mark 13: 33 — 37
With this reading of the Holy Gospel according to St Mark, we begin a new Christian year. This is Advent Sunday: the start of four weeks of preparation for the wonderful celebration of the birth of Jesus, the Messiah, or Yeshua as His parents called Him.
As we have noted in previous years, it can seem more than a little strange to prepare for Christmas with a Gospel reading about the end time and the second advent of Jesus. But as we have also previously noted, the Christian Church has always interpreted the nativity of the Lord in terms of his role both in and beyond human time and space. For now, during this season of preparation, we will allow the four Advent Gospels to help us get used to the threefold coming of the Lord:
• into human affairs at Bethlehem
• into our personal lives
• at the close of time as we know it.
Notice how the Advent Gospels do this in what one could almost describe as an inverse sequence to the above. This prepares us for the action of the divine which is not bound by human dimensions or logic.
In an age when shops have no compunction about selling hot-cross buns from mid January, or filling shelves with Christmas decorations from August, and playing sacred Christian music to stimulate sales from early September, it is understandable for Christians to find it hard to focus on Advent.
Our sacred culture is being openly and blatantly plundered by those who value it only for the financial profits it can bring them. As Christians, let us try and follow the traditional custom of prayer and penance to prepare ourselves to celebrate worthily the awesome festival of Christmas: the commemoration of the birth of Jesus.
Some Notes On the Text
(Note: we include verse 32 for the sake of clarity)
“But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in
heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
Our Lord has been talking about the signs of the end of time: see verses 5, 9 and 23. Here, it is not that no one knows anything about that day or hour. Rather, our Lord is saying no one knows the precise moment when (verse 33) “the time will come”. We quote below, the Commentary on the Holy Bible (Editor J. Dummelow) for those who would appreciate a theological note on this verse.
This is the true reading not only here but in Mt 24: 36, where it has
been altered in many manuscripts, probably as being a difficulty to
faith. Rightly to understand it, we must remember that Jesus
possessed two complete and perfect natures, the divine and the
human. In His divine nature He knew all things whatsoever, but in
His human nature He knew only such things as He willed to know.
And since it was not expedient that we should know the day and
the hour of the Last Judgment, He willed to be ignorant of it. This
avowed ignorance implies no limitation of Christ’s divine nature.
Christ had no will but his Father’s. When the Father willed to
withhold from Him any of His designs, His will was to be ignorant.
The Arians taught that the Son was ignorant even in His divine nature,
but Athanasuis replied, “But lovers of Christ recognise that the Word
did not say, “I know not”, as being the Word, for He knew but He thus
indicated His humanity, showing that ignorance is part of human nature”
To sum up this verse, we use a sentence or two from Augustine Stock O.S.B.”
“God can come to us at any time; in Jesus Christ the fulfilment is
always near at hand. It touches us in our meeting with the Word of
God, it lays a claim on us in every decision to believe and to act as
a Christian, and it comes to us in a unique way in our personal death.
Mark sees the end of all things is always before us.”
Now, we commence the text for Advent Sunday.
Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.
This does not mean do nothing but stand and watch. Rather, be open to all that is happening around you; think about it and interpret what you see and hear. Be open, therefore, to all sources of information. Do not be distracted, but ready to respond. This frame of mind will also characterise the prayer of the Christian in the world: always ready to respond, especially when that time arrives (point of time, not a duration).
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.
This is like a minature parable: the Master appoints His household to carry out the tasks each servant has been allocated, and as He leaves, tells the one at the door to watch for His return. Here, our Lord emphasises the individual nature of discipleship: each has a specific task to do, and will be free to do it in his own way. (Ten exousian, Greek for “the authority” to make decisions) By completing this task, each servant fulfils his / her obligation to keep watch.
Verses 35 and 36
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.
Our Lord is being very insistent that our lives must be wholly oriented towards His return. This is clear by the fact that He names the four watches (segments) of the Roman 24 hour day. Charles Erdman reminds us that watchfulness does not consist of:
• idle speculation of the time of our Lord’s return;
• the presumptuous setting of dates
• neglect of duty, especially by over emphasising religious
practice while undervaluing one’s work or domestic duties.
On the contrary, he explains, we are called to absolute fidelity round the clock to our daily tasks. “If He comes suddenly” He had better not find us neglecting to carry out our proper duties which, of course, must include the careful provision of healthy, quality rest and sleep. As Barclay says, we must so live, that it does not matter when He comes! This understanding gives us the great task of making every day fit for Him to see, and being at any moment ready to meet Him face to face.
What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!'”
Interestingly, the first Christians were so taken with this admonition of the Lord that from the Greek word for watch (gregoreite, be wakeful) they formed the name for their sons: Gregory. Jesus concludes His forceful lesson by speaking to all His followers far beyond the immediate circle of His listeners, down through the ages: everyone is to be vigilant at all times. William Lane has pointed out that this “final call to watchfulness in verse 37 is not focussed exclusively upon the last day, but like the previous admonitions, has a bearing upon the continuing life of the Church during an age marked by false teachers, persecution and delay in the Lord’s return”.
Thus we need to keep before us our Lord’s warning to be watchful not just for perils from outside the Church, but equally from within.
To many, it may still seem strange to be preparing for Christmas by meditating on the second coming of the Lord. The experience of the Church, however, over the past 20 centuries, has been that we need to view all the great Biblical events within the whole of “salvation history”. When we do this it becomes natural for us to see them in a new dimension, with heightened meaning for us. Unless we do this, they can become (and this is especially true of Christmas) rather superficial and merely sentimental re-enactments.
The new Church Year is beginning. This is the time for Christians to make resolutions, not January lst. Following our Lord’s plea to his disciples, we could do no better than to resolve to join our fellow Christians and “watch!”
Spiritual Reading For Advent
“I Say to Everyone Watch — (the Appendix).” (Highly recommended.)
For those who would like a detailed study resource
on the readings for Sunday, please visit:
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just scroll down the page.
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Proclaim the Gospel to Every Creature
(Mark 16: 15)
The real Jesus, is the real answer to the real needs of the world!
Let us remember God’s teaching, contained in His Word and in doing
I Say To Everyone: “Watch”
Advent 1 Year B St. Mark 13: 32 — 37
1. Even the most sincere, average Christian today, especially in Western society would wonder what you were going on about if you started repeating our Lord’s words: “Be watchful! Stay alert!” If you persevered, the word, “crackpot” may even enter into the conversation. We are far removed from a culture which encourages true watchfulness and alertness. In fact, our society discourages such attention to what is really going on, and nurtures a superficial attitude to world events, numbing our consciences in many ways.
Perhaps this is why the Season of Advent is almost, now, entirely ignored. But Christians are called to watch very closely the manipulations of the “big players”, together with the camouflaged corruption at all levels of modern society. One does not have to be obsessed with conspiracy theories to try to be truly watchful and alert. We need to ensure we do not let ourselves be drawn into downward spiralling values. It is hard work, but a lot is at stake.
2. In many countries, region by region, there is a clamping down on open celebrations of traditional festivals, especially Jewish and Christian. This is often at the request of one particular religion or political philosophy, demanding “equal treatment for all”. What is surprising, is not who is making these requests systematically throughout Western society: but rather the massive support for them from the authorities, without any resistance or support for traditional Christian celebrations. This gives us all the more reason to become galvanised into making decisions about how we live the Christian life. A good start, at the beginning of the new Christian year, is to prepare for the coming of our Lord in whatever ways are appropriate for us.
3. Perhaps we could blend into our day-to-day Christian living some simple devotion which helps us keep our focus on the real reason for Christmas, and our gratitude to God for the great gift which the season is all about. At the same time we could take steps within our personal reach to avoid, as best we reasonably can, the artificiality of the “end of year festivities”, and maintain some degree of Christian watchfulness.
Let us pray for one another that we will be able to keep a focus on the call of Jesus “to watch” — to stay on spiritual alert and be ready to play our part as Salvation History unfolds before us.
Mark 13: 32 — 37
Advent 1 Year B
32 “But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in
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
35 Watch, therefore; you do not know when the lord of the house
36 May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping.
37 What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!'”
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised
I Say to Everyone: “Watch!”
St. Mark 13: 32 — 37
These verses conclude St. Mark’s report of our Lord’s prophecy on the Mount of Olives. They ought to form a personal application of the whole discourse to our consciences.
We learn from these verses that the exact time of our Lord Jesus Christ’s second advent is purposely withheld from his Church. The event is certain. The precise day and hour are not revealed. “Of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven.”
There is deep wisdom and mercy in this intentional silence. We have reason to thank God that the thing has been hidden from us. Uncertainty about the date of the Lord’s return is calculated to keep believers in an attitude of constant expectation, and to preserve them from despondency. What a dreary prospect the early Church would have had before it if it had known for certain that Christ would not return to earth for at least fifteen hundred years! The hearts of men like Athanasius, Chrysostom, and Augustine, might well have sunk within them, if they had been aware of the centuries of darkness through which the world would pass before their Master came back to take the kingdom. — What a quickening motive, on the other hand, true Christians have perpetually had for a close walk with God! They have never known, in any age, that their Master might not come suddenly to take account of His servants. This very uncertainty has supplied them with a reason for living always ready to meet Him.
There is one caution connected with the subject, which must not be overlooked. We must not allow the uncertainty of the time of our Lord’s second advent to prevent our giving attention to the unfulfilled prophecies of Scripture. This is a great delusion but one into which unhappily, many Christians fall. There is a wide distinction to be drawn between dogmatical and positive assertions about dates, and a humble, prayerful searching into the good things yet to come. Against dogmatism about times and seasons, our Lord’s words in this place are a standing caution.
But as to the general profitableness of studying prophecy, we can have no plainer authority than the Apostle Peter’s words: “Ye do well that ye take heed to prophecy'; and the Apostle John’s words in Revelation: “Blessed is he that readeth.” (2 Peter 1: 19; Rev. 1: 3.)
We learn, in the second place, from these verses, what are the practical duties of all true believers in the prospect of the second coming of Jesus Christ. Our Lord mentions three things to which His people should attend. He tells them plainly that He is coming again one day, in power and great glory. He tells them at the same time, that the precise hour and date of that coming are not known. What then are His people to do? In what position of mind are they to live? They are to watch. They are to pray. They are to work.
We are to watch. We are to live always on our guard. We are to keep our souls in a wakeful, lively state, prepared at any time to meet our Master. We are to beware of anything like spiritual lethargy, dullness, deadness, and torpor. The company, the employment of time, the society which induces us to forget Christ and His second advent, should be marked, noted, and avoided. “Let us not sleep as do others,” says the Apostle, “but let us watch and be sober.” (1 Thess 5: 6).
We are to pray. We are to keep up habits of regular communion and intercourse with God. We are to allow no strangeness to come in between us and our Father in heaven, but to speak with Him daily; that so we may be ready at any moment to see Him face to face. Moreover, we are to make special prayer about the Lord’s coming, that we may be “found in peace, without spot and blameless,” and that our hearts may at no time be “overcharged” with the cares of this life, and so the day come upon us unawares. (2 Peter 3: 14; Luke 21: 34).
Finally, we are to work. We are to realize that we are all servants of a great Master, who has given to every man his work, and expects that work to be done. We are to labour to glorify God, each in our particular sphere and relation. There is always something for every one to do. We are to strive each of us to shine as a light, — to be the salt of our own times, — to be faithful witnesses for our Master, and to honour Him by conscientiousness and consistency in our daily conversation. Our great desire must be to be found not idle and sleeping, but working and doing.
Such are the simple injunctions to which our Lord would have us attend. They ought to stir up in the hearts of all professing Christians great self-examination.
Are we looking for our Saviour’s return? Do we long for His appearing? Can we say with sincerity, Come Lord Jesus? Do we live as if we expected Christ to come again? These are questions which demand serious consideration. May we give them the attention which they deserve!
Does our Lord require us to neglect any of the duties of life, in the expectation of His return? He requires nothing of the kind. He does not bid the farmer neglect his land, or the labourer his work, the merchant his business, or the lawyer his calling. All He asks is that baptized people should live up to the faith into which they were baptized, — should live as penitent people, live as believing people, — live as people who know that “without holiness no man can see the Lord.” — So living we are ready to meet our Master. Not living in this way we are neither fit for death, judgment, nor eternity. To live in this way is to be truly happy, because it is to be truly prepared for anything that may come upon earth. Let us never be content with a lower standard of practical Christianity than this. The last words of the prophecy are peculiarly solemn: “What I say unto you, I say unto all, Watch!” (J. C. Ryle)