You have to be ready

In our first reading, the Prophet Isaiah says that All nations shall stream toward it. Of course he is speaking about a day in the future when the light of salvation will shine from the highest mountain. If you grew up in Orlando, you could be forgiven for thinking Isaiah was referring to Space Mountain at Disney World. Based on all measures of tourism, people indeed stream toward that Magical Kingdom – that entertainment mecca that offers a respite from the imperfect, unredeemed world in which we live. Continue reading

Stay Awake

This coming Sunday is the first Sunday in Advent. In yesterday’s posts we considered the pastoral concerns of the gospel; concerns that sometimes get lost amid all the attention to an “apocalyptic” fervor around the reading. In today’s post we’ll look at Matthew’s emphasis that the disciples will not know the day – no one knows – but that does not remove the need to stay awake – a key theme of Advent. Continue reading

Matthew’s Pastoral Concerns

This coming Sunday is the first Sunday in Advent. In the posts from yesterday we reviewed the context of the gospel as used in Advent and in the larger context of a unified gospel. In today’s post we pick up the idea that Matthew’s primary concern is pastoral so that the community continues in its discipleship even if the end is delayed.

John Meier (Matthew,291) notes that a good part of Ch. 24 in Matthew is spent in attempting to calm off-based eschatological (end-time) fervor and calculation.  Something that even in our day has become a cottage industry as folks pore over Daniel and Revelation attempting to “crack the code” about the end-time when/where. The three rapid-fire parables in our gospel reading attempt to establish a proper eschatological fervor (watchfulness). The three parables (the generation of Noah, the two pairs of workers, and the thief in the night) announce the major theme of the second part of the discourse: vigilance and preparedness for the coming [parousia] of the Son of Man.

Our verses are also part of a larger pastoral theme in which believers are instructed about the manner in which we are to live as we vigilantly wait. Warren Carter (Matthew and the Margins: A Sociopolitical and Religious Reading, 486) writes about this fifth discourse:

Käsemann has argued that the basic question of apocalyptic material is, “To whom does the sovereignty of the world belong?” Chapters 24-25 are an unequivocal assertion of God’s ownership, God’s right to determine cosmic destiny. Judgment falls on those who do not acknowledge god’s sovereignty. Rome’s empire, or any empire, is not ultimate. Eternal Rome is not the future. cf. 4 Ezra 11:37-46). It is mortal (24:28) and subject to God’s empire.

This critique of Rome gains some force because of the material’s proximity to the struggle of 66-70 [AD]. Rome’s victory and destruction of Jerusalem suggest invincible power. But chapters 24-25 contextualize this power in God’s purposes, thereby revealing it to be limited and under judgment (see 22:7). Moreover, as U. Mauser has argued, the frequent references to false prophets and messiahs (24:5, 11, 23-26) show that the chapter rejects the way of violence adopted by those who took up arms as the means of trying to throw off Roman oppression. While the goal of liberation was commendable, the means was not. Armed revolution is a false way, just as passive compliance was rejected previously in the gospel (see 5:38-42; 17:24-27). Ultimately god will bring the promised salvation through Jesus’ return and the establishment of God’s empire (so 1:21). In the meantime, the Matthean community is to live its alternative, countercultural existence of active, subversive, nonviolent resistance in the sure hope of God’s coming triumph.

This section of Matthew begins with foretelling the destruction of the temple, (which had happened by Matthew’s time) and a two-part question from the disciples: “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (24:3). Answers to the question: “What signs?” are given in 24:4-35. Answers to the question: “When?” are given in 24:36-25:46.

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Two Advents

This coming Sunday is the first Sunday in Advent and the first Sunday of the new liturgical year, Cycle A, in which the Gospel of Matthew is the anchor text for the next 12 months. The readings are not very “Chrismassy” nor are they intended to be. Advent is a different season. Advent has a two-fold character: as a season to prepare our hearts for Christmas when Christ’s first coming is remembered with joy and as a season when that remembrance directs the mind and heart to await Christ’s second coming at the end of time. Advent is thus a period of devout and joyful expectation with an element of repentance as part of the preparation. Continue reading

First Advent – a final admonition

This coming Sunday is the start of a new liturgical year (Year C) and the first Sunday in Advent. In the posts this week we have looked  at the gospel in context and in detail. The reading ends with a final admonishment

34 “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise 35 like a trap. For that day will assault everyone who lives on the face of the earth. 36 Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man.”

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First Sunday in Advent

This coming Sunday is the start of a new liturgical year (Year C) and the first Sunday in Advent. The gospel is apocalyptic and seems, at first glance, an odd way to begin to run-up to Christmas. But then Advent was never meant to be a “run-up” to Christmas. The previous Sunday celebrates the Solemnity of Christ the King which portends the “age to come.” Advent is no less striking in its meaning – celebrating the two turning of the ages: the revelation of the reign of God and the birth of the Messiah. It is apocalyptic, but it also is a call to vigilance.

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Advent Watching

Next Sunday is the 1st Sunday of Advent in Year B. You can read a full commentary on the gospel reading here.

32 “But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 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 his servants in charge, each with his work, and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch. 35 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. 36 May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping. 37 What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’”

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