Exegetical Reflection on the Gospel of the First Sunday of Advent, Year B, Mark 13:33-37, November 27, 2011
FROM TIME TO time, we read news items about people who commit suicide—a jilted lover, a bankrupt businessman, or a problem-laden woman. But these are exceptions. We, the majority, go on living despite frequent ups and downs in life. And why do we go on? The reasons are varied, but the most common denominators are future and hope. One person may commit suicide because, in his perception, there is no hope of getting rid of the pain and conflicts save by getting rid of oneself. He longs for rest from conflicts, but he feels he cannot get this in the future. Thus, one takes a dive. However, there is always the desire the go on living as long as there is hope. Hope gives power and strength to life. As long as there is hope and future, no situation is unbearable.
Today, we begin the season of Advent, which is a time of hope. It is a reminder that our religion is one of hope. To be a Christian is to be in joyful hope. Which brings us to the question: Why do we continue to celebrate hope? Of course, if we look at our world and examine its history, we discover much that forces us to question the future. We ask, for instance, if peace is probable in the future, because, if history has anything to tell us, it informs us that wars have been with us since the beginning. Marx is not entirely wrong when he interpreted history in terms of struggle. The ethnic cleaning in some African countries, which recalls similar phenomenon in the former Yugoslavia, the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Cold War, the Second World War—the list seems endless. One wonders whether man can achieve peace. If this is what one feels about the world, what does a believer feel about his hope that evil will come to an end?
In the First Reading, we read from Isaiah who articulates the feelings of his people about their lot: “For you have hidden your face from me” (Isa 64:6). Do we not sometimes feel, with all the seemingly unending experience of evil, that there is no hope ever that things will change in the future? Who does not feel the seeming absence of God who, it sometimes seems, has abandoned us who believe in him? Does it not sometimes appear that the heavens are closed, that God is silent and absent? People ask God to help them overcome their problems, but it seems that their cry remains unanswered. Everyday, we pray for peace, but when will the prayer be heard? Despite all this, however, we continue to celebrate hope, because, according to St Paul, God in Jesus Christ has begun working among us. To the Corinthians, for example, he speaks of the rich gifts that have been bestowed on them (1 Cor 4:7). For Christians, God is at work in the good that happens in the world, in the beautiful things that happen in each person’s life. Reconciliation of quarrelling neighbors, forgiving a murderer, donation to a cause for justice, embracing an enemy, feeding the hungry, standing for the rights of the oppressed—events such as these are the work of the Spirit. And what God has begun, he will not abandon (1 Cor 10:13), for he is faithful (1 Cor 1:9, Second Reading).
Since God is at work, we cannot therefore despair. We cannot give up even the tiniest accomplishments we have with regard, for instance, to world peace and justice, despite the multitude of wars and injustices in our midst, because each accomplishment has been initiated by God. We have reason to hope that he will reveal more powerfully in our lives what “no ear has ever heard, no eye ever seen” (Isa 64:3b). Which is none other than the “fellowship with His Son, Christ our Lord” (1 Cor 1:9). As followers of Christ, what we can do is watch for that revelation. This is the point of today’s Gospel (Mark 13:33-37). We wait for God to intervene in the world on our behalf. As we do not know when is he going to reveal to us this object of our hope—this fellowship with him and with the saints—all we need to do is to watch! “Be constantly on the watch! Stay awake! You do not know when the appointed time will come” (Mark 13:33).
And how do we watch? It is by allowing God’s gift to work in our lives. “Would that [God] might meet us doing right, that we were mindful of [him] in our ways!” (Isa 64:4). The active watching is revealed in the kind of life that we lead, which we hope to be perfected when Christ will fully reveal to us the fellowship. It is a life that proclaims that we are mouthpieces of Christ, giving witness to all. God has already begun this kind of life in us through the Holy Spirit, and we continue allowing the Spirit to work in us as we wait for the final revelation. Wars may go on, but the fact people are reconciled gives hope. Says St Paul: “The hope will not leave us disappointed, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom 5:5).*