Year B Advent 1st Sunday: Mark 13,33-37

13:33 'Be on your guard, stay awake, because you never know when the time will come.
13:34 It is like a man travelling abroad:
he has gone from his home, and left his servants in charge,
each with his own work to do; and he has told the doorkeeper to stay awake.
13:35: So stay awake, because you do not know when the master of the house is coming,
13:36 evening, midnight, cockcrow or dawn;
if he comes unexpectedly, he must not find you asleep.
13:37 And what I am saying to you I say to all: Stay awake!'

This text is the end of the so-called Apocalyptic Sermon of Jesus. The occasion is that some disciples admire the beauty of the temple. But Jesus predicts that it will be destroyed. Frightened, the disciples ask him when that will happen (13:1-2). In his answer Jesus is much more concerned with the attitude of his disciples in such circumstances. So, he enumerates a series of disasters which will take place at any moment (13:3-20). (Some of these disasters were already reality in the time Mark wrote his Gospel!).

The message is: when these things will happen: stay awake. It is as if Jesus says, ‘To stay awake is an image for adhering to what I taught you. Don’t bend with the wind of the day, don’t go with the values and norms of that moment: be dedicated to my commandments.’

Jesus uses a parable. He speaks about the time he will be ‘gone’. He compares himself with a man travelling abroad. He entrusts the administration of his goods to his slaves. (The Greek texts doesn’t say ‘servants’, but ‘slaves’). Remember: slaves didn’t have a bad life in those times. They were part of the big family. The main task of a slave was to obey the master and to do what they commanded. The slave was the mirror of the attitude of the master. In other words the disciples had to be the slaves of Jesus; they had to show in their behaviour Jesus’ behaviour. That was what Jesus meant by ‘Stay awake!’.

Notice that the words ‘stay awake’ occur three times in this short text (vss.34.35.37). 

Shortly after this moment Jesus will pronounce these same three words again: in Gethsemane where Jesus is looking forward to his passion and death, ‘Stay awake!’(14:34.37.38). There the moment has come for himself of which he spoke in the Apocalyptic Sermon. The disasters which will happen with the temple and the world, did first happen to himself! In these very frightening hours which are about to come he has to be dedicated to what he has taught: showing fidelity, love, forgiveness…

Message for me: whatever may happen in my life and the world around me: I have to adhere to Jesus’ way of life.

Left: the comparison with the fig tree (13:28); right: the commandment to the doorkeeper to stay awake.
Peter Clare (detail Mark painting)

Picture Meditation

I am looking at two windows (photographed by Fr Dries) from a series of four, made by the artist Christine Cocar. They are to be found in the church of St Alban, a little village in Brittany, France.

The artist explains the first window, ‘Here we see how people are slumbering, bent over, and fled into not wanting to see and not wanting to know. Mankind in its grief and poverty covered by a dull blanket behind the barbwire fencing of its spiritual captivity which is not necessarily only spiritual. Nevertheless light is to be seen, though weak; far away somewhere in the atmosphere, a glimmering in the mist. Characters are becoming visible vaguely, they announce the coming of the Word, the Word of God…’

The second window is placed in the north wall, as is the first one, nearer to the east wall. I listen to the artist, The breakthrough of the light from the east is about to come. Still pale, but yellow beams promise the coming of a warm day. The people who just before were lying under a dull blanket rise up and are looking up full of hope. The grey breaks open and the light comes in. In the foreground brown bars which were closed earlier are opening up now.

The characters become visible, although still dark. The texts are quotes from the Gospel; the higher ones are written in the Aramaic language and refer to the resurrection. The lower ones are written in the Latin language with Celtic characters. They refer to the monks from Ireland, Wales and Cornwall who brought us the Gospel.’

Looking at the people in both windows I try to remember the moments in my life that I belonged to those who were lying down not seeing the coming of the light. And when did I experience the coming of light; that my captivity was broken open and that my eyes could see beyond the dark…

by Fr Dries van den Akker SJ