1st Sunday Advent Year A
Sunday 27th November 2022
The Gospel Paraphrased
There are many fine translations of the Gospels readily available. This paraphrase is not meant to replace them. Rather the intention here is to offer a more contemporary rendering so that you can imaginatively translate the Gospel in your own situation.
This Sunday's Gospel Paraphrased
Jesus said to his disciples: “In Noah’s time people were completely taken by surprise when the flood came. There they were, carrying on as usual, eating drinking, marrying. Even as Noah walked into his ark, they suspected nothing. That’s what it will be like when the end comes. Two men will be at work: one is killed in an accident, the other walks away. Two women are in a car that rolls: one walks away unscathed, the other dies.
So be alert. You do not know when your Master will come. Imagine, the virus protection on your computer is not working, would you open an attachment on an email if you knew there was a virus in it? Of course not. So be alert, be alive to the coming of Son of Man at any time.
The Psalms are the ancient prayers of the Jewish people, here paraphrased into contemporary language.
This Sunday's Psalm
Ps 121: 1-2, 4-5,6-9
I rejoiced when they said to me,
‘Let us go to the House of the Lord.’
Our feet now stand within your gates, O Jerusalem!
This is where the tribes are going,
the tribes of the Lord,
to witness to Israel
and, in God’s name, give thanks.
There are set the thrones of judgement,
the thrones of the House of David.
Pray for the peace of Israel:
that all who love you will prosper,
that peace will be within your walls
and prosperity in all your houses.
For my family’s and community’s sake I pray:
peace be within you.
For love of the House of the Lord our God
I pray for your good.
Words cannot contain our desire for God but they help direct our minds and hearts towards God's love and express our needs.
This Sunday's Prayer
Lord our God, as we begin this Advent season may your Spirit make us alive to Jesus’ presence: in his coming over 2000 years ago, to his coming at the end of time, and to his presence today in our family and friends, our works and our loves. May we know his intimate love deep in our hearts and may our lives show to the world that he still is ‘God-with-us’. Amen
The Commentaries Summarised
As a Church we are in a web of wisdom that comes to us both from tradition and contemporary writers. This section offers a summary of some commentaries on the Gospel. Also below is a list of the books and articles that have been consulted in compiling this Sunday's "Pray As You Can" and which could be used for further reading.
This Sunday's Commentary
When the Gospels were written, speculation concerning the end of the world was common: when would it happen, how would it happen, who would be saved, who wouldn’t. This speculation led to the formation of a genre of writing called apocalyptic. There are elements of this writing in the New Testament but in this Sunday’s Gospel, Matthew takes the genre and turns it on its head. Rather than being concerned about when and what may happen in the future, we are called to have a sense of urgency about being prepared to met Jesus at any time, but most especially in the present moment.
Matthew is also responding to criticism from the Jews of his time concerning the apparent failure of Jesus Christ to come as he had promised. The early Christians had thought that Jesus would come in glory in their lifetime and when he didn’t they had to reassess their understanding of his teaching.
This Sunday’s reading appears in the long apocalyptic teaching given by Jesus before his arrest. It begins at Mt 24:4 and goes right through to Mt 25:46, a total of 93 verses – a significant proportion of the whole Gospel. Though this section begins with warnings concerning the Last Times, and the destruction of Jerusalem in particular, it transforms the usual direction of the apocalyptic discourse. Firstly, Jesus stresses that no-one knows the time of the Coming of the Son of Man, so instead of trying to work it out, his disciples should live in alertness, ready at all times for his coming. Secondly, this alertness is not shown by looking towards some distant horizon but rather by fulfilling in one’s ordinary life the service of love to which the followers of Jesus, and indeed, all people are called. This Sunday’s reading stresses this first point. The second is powerfully shown in depiction of the Last Judgement when all are judged on how they had served the weak and helpless around them.
The people of Noah’s time are not described as doing anything evil – indeed eating, drinking, marrying are all the most ordinary of human activities. Their failure was that they were so absorbed in these they were not open to the possibility of change or to other horizons in life. The two contrasts Jesus offers, of the men in the field and the women at the mill, again show people going about their routine life. But in these cases, one is alert, the other not, though no difference in their way of acting is immediately apparent. The next parable seems almost banal in its obviousness. Of course, a householder will not know the time of a thief’s arrival, of course he must remain alert. But the fact that robberies do happen show that many householders do not. These parables alert us to definitive coming of Son of Man into situations in which we find ourselves each and every day. It goes against the human tendency to put God out there, somewhere away from where we are, and being one to whom a people must show special behaviour. Rather, God is here, now present to us in the most ordinary tasks we do – and doing them with an eye to God’ presence is the best preparation we can make for the Final Coming.
Christian conversion is promoted by conversation. This section is a response to and a development on the knowledge gained from the commentary section.
This Sunday's Exposition
“Present” has a number of very significant and different meanings. It means now. It means being physically and mentally alert in a situation. It also means a gift, a free offering to another. All three of these meaning offer insights into these sayings of Jesus.
This Gospel has traces of the apocalyptic outlook, which understands human life in dramatic terms as the place where evil and good battle each other. The apocalyptic outlook also asks big questions: what will happen in the end days? Such an outlook is not a thing of the past. Many modern movies and novels, especially fantasy literature, thrive on such themes. They are popular because they call us out of our dull ordinary lives. But while Matthew uses such apocalyptic imagery, he subverts the sense of urgency over future cataclysmic events into something quite different. He has Jesus calling us to be present, “alert”, to God’s coming in the present moment, “now”.
Being alert in the moment to another is can be the richest ‘presents’ a person can offer. Other gifts are separate from the person – they are things or acts – but when one gives attention one truly gives of the self. Only when we are attentive to one another can a relationship flourish. Jesus’ cry to us is to ask us to be attentive and not to drift through life. When we become attentive to God and to others our dull ordinary lives can be transformed into lives rich and glorious.
Reflection is an essential element of our growth in Christ. As we reflect over what we have learnt and ponder it in our hearts, we come to recognise the presence of God in our lives.
This Sunday's Reflection
The early British explorers mystified the local aboriginal peoples when they first travelled through this land. Why were these strange white people suffering starvation and thirst when they were passing by obvious sources of food and water? Were they on some form of self-inflicted trial? Were they seeking a slow form of suicide? We know what the local people did not. The explorers could not see what was in front of them because they were expecting food and drink to be something different from what was actually in the bush.
In a very real sense we can be like them. We fail to see the presence of God because our expectations of what God’s presence is like are different from how God actually comes to us. We want something more dramatic, more obvious than the quiet, gentle way. We want to be saved from our problems, rather than having to work through them. We want others to change rather than have to change ourselves. We want the lottery win rather than the discipline of budgeting and self-restraint.
The signs of God’s presence are constantly around us: sunrises, the beauty of flowers, the playfulness of pets. No matter how many people deny the existence of God, God will continue to delight in creation and ask us to join in that delight. God’s care shines through people as well as nature. Notice how much co-operation goes on in our society. Most traffic reaches its destination; the media, the internet, our supermarkets, all work most of the time because people are constantly co-operating with each other. We only notice the rare failures. The signs of God’s love are constantly around us…and within us. Nearly all of us have someone who loves us. And we all desire to love in some way. These signs of God are not something remote from our lives – they are present in our midst for those who chose to see.
The signs do not negate the existence of sin and evil in our world: hatred, ugliness, violence, injustice, pettiness and the myriad of awful things we ourselves experience and see in the media. God asks us to join in the work of salvation of Jesus Christ in overcoming evil but we will only be able to do our part if we have already embraced the abundant good present in our world.