A — TEXT
Theme — Watch! Live as a disciple! Take heed, watch; for you do not know when the time will come.  It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch.  Watch therefore — for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning —  lest he come suddenly and find you asleep.  And what I say to you I say to all — Watch.”
B — EXPLANATION
Introduction: Mark chapter 13 states that the time will come when the great Temple in Jerusalem will be destroyed and many more disasters will follow. Only God the Father knows when all this will take place. For the disciples, the important thing is not when these things will take place but to be prepared for them by “watching” in advance by the way one lives.
33. Take heed, watch; for you do not know when the time will come
“Take heed” — This means ‘pay attention’. This is the fourth time in this chapter that this expression is used by Jesus, an indication of its importance (verses 5, 9, 23 and 33).
“Watch” occurs four times in these five verses (33, 34, 35 and 37). “Take heed” and “watch” are terms calling on listeners and readers to be alert to what is taking place or about to take place around them. Implied is patience in the long delay as one waits expectantly.
“you do not know” — This expression will recur again in verse 35 to emphasise that the servant–disciples do not know when the “master” will return and so they must take the necessary precautions: vigilance, patience and responsibility for work assigned.
“The time” referred to here cannot be the coming of Jesus at the Nativity because he has already come. It is the “time” of the Second Coming when Jesus will return at the General Resurrection. There is an air of urgency about this verse which will be highlighted by repetitions in verses 35 and 37.
The gospel passage proclaims the essential truth that will be celebrated in all its dimensions throughout the year, namely, the “Advent” truth that God has come in the person of Jesus Christ, and that the same Lord will come again in power and glory.
34. It is like a man going on a journey
Now Jesus gives us a parable. It describes a man, obviously Jesus, going on a journey, clearly returning to his Father by his ascension, to come back at the Second Coming.
when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch.
“when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge” — Each and all disciples are “servants”, with each being given extra responsibility, which includes the authority of “the master” to be “in charge”. Each of us has a special task from God.
“each with his work” — with a command from Jesus to perform a special and personal “work”, our Christian mission. It is our duty to know what this is. Jesus makes it clear in this passage that this “work” includes being on the “watch” not just to witness the return of the “master” but to be alert, on guard for his coming, cooperating with God’s divinely designed plans of work for humanity: “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.’” (Mt. 28: 18–20).
It is the duty of the doorkeeper alone to watch physically for the return of the “master”. The other servants ‘watch’, that is, they are prepared by their special tasks, through doing their allocated “work” in a responsible and accountable manner.
“Door” is a frequent theme in the NT. See Jn. 10: 1–10 where Jesus refers to himself as the door; Mt. 16: 19 where Simon Peter is given the keys of the door of the Kingdom of Heaven; Mt. 25: 11 where the foolish virgins ask to have the door opened.
35. Watch therefore — for you do not know when the master of the house will come
The disciples are urged to be constantly on the watch, prepared, for the parousia, that is the Second Coming of Jesus at the end of the world. Once again, an air of urgency is expressed. See vv. 33 & 37.
“for you do not know when” — every so often we hear of people declaring when Jesus will return for his Second Coming. We are not to pay attention to them. No one knows the “when” other than the Father (verse 32)
“Master” is used here for Jesus; we have already been described as “servants”. We are reminded that our relationship with him is that of “servants” to our “master”. We depend on him; we should not be trying to liberate ourselves from him.
in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning.
The Romans divided the evening and night, from 6.00 p.m. to 6.00 a.m., into four periods of three hours each. The Jews had only three divisions. The four Roman divisions are mentioned during the Passion of Jesus: Judas betrayed him in the evening (Mk. 14: 17); the disciples slept and fled coming up to midnight; the Jews tried Jesus in the night (Mk. 14: 32–65); Peter denied Jesus at cockcrow (Mk. 14: 72); the crowds rejected Jesus and Pilate condemned him in the morning (Mk. 15: 1–15).
36. lest he come suddenly and find you asleep.
“lest he come suddenly and find you” — Note the words “find you”. These words make it clear that Jesus is not talking about other people but about “you”, his audience of listeners or readers. This is a very personal and special address.
“asleep” that is, not doing the allocated work with its responsibilities. Above all “asleep” refers to sin.
37 And what I say to you
Jesus is addressing Peter, James, John and Andrew (See 13: 3). When he enters his agony in the Garden of Gethsemane he will bring the first three with him, some short distance from the other apostles. He will come to them three times, find them sleeping on each occasion and not watching as he requested them (See 14: 32–42).
I say to all — Watch.
“All” — Jesus has spoken to his four apostles, Peter and Andrew, James and John, and he adds that what he says to them applies to the other apostles asleep nearby and to all people who are his “servants” or disciples. They too must be vigilant until their “master” arrives.
See vv. 33, 35 for repetition of the call to “watch” or be vigilant.
The Agony in the Garden follows Jesus’ warnings in this passage. While Jesus prays the apostles sleep! They did not put into practice what Jesus warned. There is a lesson there for us, which each has to answer personally, — are we “watching”?
C — APPLICATION
- 1. Church’s New Year
This approaching Sunday, the First of Advent, marks the commencement of a new Church year. This begins a four–week period in which we prepare for the celebration of the anniversary of the coming of Christ into our world in human form on the first Christmas Day to recall our redemption and the establishment of the Kingdom of Heaven.
In addition to looking back, we also look forward to Christ’s Second Coming, the parousia, at the end of time, the Last Day. Past and future are joined with the present in and by Advent.
When we celebrate past or future events in our families we have our special ways of doing this —perhaps with a get–together, a party, a cake, a meal out, a day of celebration and enjoyment and so forth. In the Church; we celebrate with what is known as “liturgy”. Liturgy is the way in which we recall what we are celebrating not just as a memory but in such a manner that we re–live the sacred and saving events of our salvation.
To do this, we make a stage or event in Christ’s work of our salvation come to life; we make it actual in our lives. As implied already, it is not a mere memory in the head but an event that we re–enact in our lives. We will have four weeks of excited waiting for Christmas, a reminder that this is how we should be looking forward to the Second Coming of Christ.
In these four weeks the word we use to describe this particular liturgical act is “advent”, a technical term, meaning ‘the coming’, a word borrowed from secular society to describe the approaching visit of a king or perhaps of a god who would be worshipped.
To make this celebration alive our first stage is to read the Word of God. This is God speaking to us, sharing his words. In this Church year, Year B it is called, we concentrate on the Gospel of Mark. There are two strange things about the passage from Mark chosen for today’s Reading. Number one, it is not taken from an account of Christ’s birth but from Chapter 13, a chapter in which Jesus speaks of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, of wars, famines, persecutions, hatred and even the death of his followers. It is his last speech before his Passion, Death and Resurrection. His public ministry has now come to an end.
The second strange thing about the choice of this reading is that immediately after are the last three chapters in Mark’s Gospel. For me, this means that Mark, inspired by God’s Holy Spirit, wished to let us know that this Reading, Jesus’ last words to us before his suffering, is most important as our introduction to the mystery of his Passion, Death and Resurrection.
So here we are today, looking back at Christ’s first coming, his birth, and forward to his second coming at the end of time.
- 2. Parable
Jesus explains, by a parable, the mystery of his future and final coming in power and glory. He compares himself to a householder going abroad on a journey who places his servants in charge of his house, “each with his own work”. Because he is absent, more responsibility is expected from them than if he were present. They are warned to “watch” and “be on the alert” for “the master’s” return.
This now is where we are at present in the history of our salvation — waiting for the return of “the master”. He left us when he ascended into heaven. We have special responsibility and “work” to do and we will be accountable for both. These are Jesus’ last words before his death. He says, “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.”
- 3. Second Coming
Often when we think of the Second Coming, we think of judgement and are moved to anxiety and fear. Have you ever thought of the Second Coming of Jesus as an event to be welcomed, when the Son of Man will come in glory with all his angels? Waiting and watching out of fear is passive and paralyzing. Waiting in faith is eager and exciting.
The two comings we think most about in the liturgical season of Advent are Christ’s coming into the world in human form on the first Christmas Day — the Incarnation — and his Second Coming at the end of time — the Last Day.
- 4. Watchfulness
Being in an attitude of watchfulness while waiting and hoping — this is the focal point of the readings of today’s liturgy. The Gospel repeats three times “Be on your guard, stay awake“, because you never know when the time will come, when the “master” of the house will come.
God does not reveal himself to satisfy our curiosity or to eradicate healthy hope from our hearts. He reveals himself for our good and for our salvation. Not knowing when or how keeps us human beings, generation after generation, in a state of watchfulness, alert, which is what Jesus urges us to do in the Gospel.
“Watch!” This is the key word in the short passage that the Church presents for the liturgy of the first Sunday of Advent. To watch, to stay awake, to wait for the return of the “master” of the house, not to sleep, as the eleven apostles did in the Garden. This is what Jesus asks from all Christians.
Perhaps we might sum up this message in three words: Wait, watch, work.
- 5. Prayer
It is quite common in the Bible that when speaking of vigils and watching, prayer is the normal expression of how we are to proceed. Jesus gave us a perfect example of this in his Agony in the Garden. See CCC, 2849 — [And lead us not into temptation] “Such a battle [temptation] and such a victory [over the devil and his temptations] become possible only through prayer. [It is a spiritual battle]. It is by his prayer that Jesus vanquishes the Tempter, both at the outset of his public mission and in the ultimate struggle of his agony. In this petition to our heavenly Father, Christ unites us to his battle and his agony. He urges us to vigilance of the heart in communion with his own. Vigilance is ‘custody of the heart’, and Jesus prayed for us to the Father — ‘Keep them in your name’ [Jn. 17: 11, etc.]. The Holy Spirit constantly seeks to awaken us to keep watch [I Cor. 16: 13, etc.]. Finally, this petition takes on all its dramatic meaning in relation to the last temptation of our earthly battle; it asks for final perseverance — ‘Lo, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is he who is awake.’ [Rv. 16: 15]”
Turning to the Lord and praying to him for his grace is precisely how we have to begin this Advent season. For it is only in recognizing and appreciating what it is that Christ has given us (see the Second Reading) that we can begin to take the necessary steps to protect such gifts.
We have seen how the Gospel passage tells us that Jesus left us with the responsibility of carrying out our tasks. One of the most common tasks all disciples have is to be missionaries, doing what Jesus left us as his very last words and which Pope Francis has chosen as his most frequent message. We have to be extremely enthusiastic to spread God’s word. There can be no room for sleep, as the disciples slept when Jesus needed them, if we are to be alert, watching and free from sin.
Today is the Church New Year. Pope Francis, the “doorkeeper”, has called us to co–work with him in two special events he has called for this year. Today he inaugurates the Year for Consecrated Life of all Religious, male and female.
Already he has inaugurated the Synods, one Extraordinary a month ago in October 2014, the other Ordinary, next October 2015, when he wants the entire Church to be involved. His reason for these Synods is that marriage and family life are in crisis as they suffer severe attacks in the name of freedom and we all have to do something urgent about this.
Advent is our opportunity to begin by prayer under the guidance of Mary our Mother. On the cross, Jesus shared her with us as our Mother also: “Behold, your Mother”. May Mary, conceived without sin by her great gift of the immaculate conception, which we will celebrate this week on Friday, December 8th, join with us in prayer that all our families may be assisted by her Son so that our all families may be replicas of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph of Nazareth.