Jesus tells his disciples that they cannot know the day their Lord is coming. They must be prepared because that coming will be at a moment they least expect. He observed that people were totally unconcerned at the time of the flood. As a result the unexpected flood destroyed them. In the same way, he warns, a thief can enter a house if the owner is not prepared to safeguard it.
Jesus observed our human tendency to live in illusion, out of touch with what’s really going on, and as a result we often suffer tragic consequences. Jesus warns us that if we succumb to this tendency we will not be prepared for the coming of the Son of Man, either at our death or at the end of time.
Today, as a consequence of the widespread anxiety induced by economic stress and terrorist attacks, we may become victims of yet a different kind of illusion. We can become so occupied with the “war on terrorism” that we will be unprepared for the Lord’s coming, and suffer even more tragic consequences as a result. “If you are not watchful, I will come like a thief, and you will never know at what hour I will come upon you” (Rev 3:3). Jesus warns us that there are countless things of this world that can make us forget the one certain reality—the day of the Lord’s coming.
Immediately following the passage of today’s Advent gospel, Matthew places three parables in which Jesus gives us examples of the kinds of people for whom the Lord’s coming will not be a happy experience. A wicked servant says to himself, “My master is long delayed,” (Matthew 24: 48) and begins to ill-treat his fellow servants and drink with drunkards. Five foolish virgins, awaiting the coming of the bridegroom, neglect to provide oil for their lamps, and are shut out. A servant out of fear buries the talent that has been entrusted to him instead of doing something creative with it.
As the climax of the three parables, Matthew gives us Jesus’ graphic description of what will happen in the final judgment at his coming. The outcome—happy or tragic—depends on how we treat each other here and now, even the least of our brothers and sisters—the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the prisoner. “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me…what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me” (25:31-46).
In Catholic belief, the grace of the Eucharistic liturgy actualizes in us what the gospel proclaims. It would not be good news simply to hear the warning of Jesus about the danger of living in illusion. A warning alone brings more anxiety, not joyful hope. The good news is that today we may receive the gift of the Spirit who enables us to see what’s really going on with the eyes of Jesus and to respond to that reality with the courage of Jesus—without illusion and without anxiety.
Campion P. Gavaler, O.S.B.