As Advent and the new Church year begin, a new cycle of scripture readings begins, too. This year Cycle B will bring us the mystery of Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God, from Mark’s gospel, the first to be written. Next Sunday we will focus on the gospel’s first verses. This Sunday we skip to a parable near the end.
Chapter 13 is apocalyptic in literary form, a kind of ancient writing that anticipates when good will triumph over present evil and present suffering will end. Jesus’ disciples seek a revelation about when the end things will happen. The narrative looks beyond Jesus’ passion toward the struggles of the Christian community after his resurrection.
As chapter 13 begins, Jesus is coming out of the temple. One of his disciples remarks about how large the foundation stones are. Jesus responds, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”
Peter, James, John, and Andrew ask when Jesus’ words will come true, when the temple will be destroyed. Part of Jesus’ answer is our gospel passage this Sunday — no one knows when the end will be, not the day, not the hour.
Instead of a date for the end of all things, Jesus gives us a one-verse parable about a man who goes on a journey, leaves his slaves in charge, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Stay awake at the door. This is the message to take with us for the new Church year — watch. Stay awake at the door.
- What practices help you lead an awake, conscious, intentional spiritual life?
- What leads you to drift and snooze?
Mark’s gospel has an interest in how faith develops. The gospels we hear this year will repeatedly tell stories in which Jesus’ disciples or others fear for their lives. In calming the sea, casting out an unclean spirit, or healing the sick, Jesus brings people beyond fear to awe and amazement. Who is this that the wind and sea obey him, they exclaim? Who is this that speaks with such authority? Awe and amazement create thresholds where faith can begin. In Jesus’ interactions with others, doors open and invite faith.
Sunday’s gospel warns that no one knows when the owner of the house will return. The owner may come in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn. These times of day anticipate threshold moments in the journey Jesus’ disciples make with him during his passion. In the evening, at midnight, at cockcrow Jesus’ disciples fail to watch.
Literally Peter, James, and John fall asleep when they accompany Jesus to the garden after their Passover meal together. Jesus prays and agonizes about the cup he must drink. They sleep. He wakes them up twice and tells Peter specifically to keep awake, but the disciples doze off, the spirit willing, the flesh weak.
At midnight in the deep of night the disciple Judas, who betrays Jesus, leads a crowd to arrest his Teacher. All of Jesus’ disciples except Peter run away. They fear for their lives and flee. No doorway to faith opens in this encounter.
At cockcrow, a doorway to faith opens for Peter, who has followed Jesus to the high priest’s house. A servant girl suggests Peter accompanies the Nazarene; Peter denies even knowing Jesus. A cock crowing awakens Peter, who realizes he has denied his friend. Peter breaks down and weeps.
Mark pictures in these three times of day three thresholds. These are ordinary moments of encounter with others. In the evening the three disciples sleep through the opportunity to be present and pray with a friend. At midnight the disciples’ survival instincts kick in; they revert to self-serving action and split. At cockcrow Peter realizes he has boastfully overstated his loyalty. His tears and regret create a new, more realistic threshold for his faith in Jesus.
Dawn is the fourth time of day, the hour when Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and Salome find Jesus’ tomb empty. The empty tomb is the ultimate threshold that invites faith that God has raised Jesus to new life.
- With what time of day in the parable do you identify?
There are doorways all the time where we encounter one another and have opportunities to be present. Our houses and offices have doors. These are thresholds where we meet and can be awake to one another.
In dark midnight moments our fears can take us over as they did Jesus’ disciples. The urge is strong to avoid things that are hard. But difficulties and fears also present thresholds that call us to consider others’ points of view, to seek to understand what we fear, to talk with friends about what terrifies us.
Cockcrow is a familiar hour. Who has not heard the cock crow and recognized I have done something I profoundly regret, something I never thought I was even capable of doing? Our regrets and tears help make us real.
At the heart of our faith is the dawn moment, the hour of resurrection. The word resurrection means waking. In our faith that God raised up Jesus to new life is a spirituality that believes new life can come where relationships are dead or where leaders are asleep to people’s needs.
Pope Francis insists resurrection is an irresistible force and not a thing of the past. “Often it seems God does not exist; all around us we see persistent injustice, evil, indifference, and cruelty. But it is also true that in the midst of darkness something new always springs to life and sooner or later produces fruit. On razed land life breaks through, stubbornly yet invincibly” (Joy of the Gospel #276).
Evening, midnight, cockcrow, dawn mark stages in a process of maturing faith. This birthing process moves from slumber to denial, to regret and waking. Mark’s gospel awakens us to the thresholds in every day and in every meeting with another person.
- What is a threshold you have crossed to faith?
- At what doorways are you watching for God’s coming?
- What awakens your consciousness to Advent in the midst of holiday bustle?