The verses we hear in this first Advent reading repeatedly encourage us to be watchful for the Lord’s coming. Fr Adrian Graffy reflects.
33 Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Be on your guard, stay awake, because you never know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man travelling abroad: he has gone from home, and left his servants in charge, each with his own task; and he has told the doorkeeper to stay awake. 35 So stay awake, because you do not know when the master of the house is coming, evening, midnight, cockcrow, dawn; 36 if he comes unexpectedly, he must not find you asleep. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake!’
The season of Advent begins, and with it we begin to read from the Gospel of Mark. We do not begin at the beginning. The opening verses of the first chapter will be heard next week, and will introduce us to the figure of John the Baptist. Today’s reading is from the speech of Jesus about waiting for the return of the Lord. This is the most prominent theme in the first weeks of Advent.
With the coming of the Lord we are forced to wait. This is just as well, for we need to grow in maturity and generosity, in wisdom and love, in order to be ready for our encounter with the one who is wisdom and love made flesh.
Jesus speaks about the future and the end of time in chapter 13 of the Gospel of Mark. This is a gospel with limited accounts of the actual teaching of Jesus. In this chapter Jesus speaks of the trials which people will have to face, and especially of the need for steadfastness among Christians. But the coming of the Lord, to gather together his people from the ends of the earth, is nevertheless assured. The verses we hear today repeatedly encourage us to be watchful for the Lord’s coming.
Our reading from the opening verses of St Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians strikes a similar tone. Paul speaks of ‘the last day’, ‘the day of our Lord Jesus Christ’. He assures the Christians of Corinth that they are already united with Jesus and can therefore rely on the fidelity of God.
The reading from the last chapters of the book of Isaiah expresses a deep yearning for the coming of the Lord. ‘Oh, that you would tear the heavens open and come down!’ The people have experienced exile and the return to their own land is beset with difficulties. Trust in God’s goodness is expressed by the image of the potter and his clay: ‘we are the clay, you the potter, we are all the work of your hand’.
Do I wait in joyful hope for the coming of the Lord?
What do the words ‘stay awake’ mean in my life?
Let us welcome this liturgical time of waiting which will teach us how to wait for the Lord.
Let us welcome the good news again as we begin to read from the Gospel of Mark.
Rev Dr Adrian Graffy is a member of the Vatican Commission that takes a lead in Bible scholarship, interpretation and promotion in the Catholic Church.
Rev Dr Graffy said of his five-year appointment by Pope Francis in 2014: “It is an honour to be nominated by Pope Francis as a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission. I feel humbled and very much look forward to being of service to His Holiness and the Church.”
He added: “A great deal has been achieved in England and Wales in recent years by many co-workers to advance Biblical scholarship and the provision of easy-to-use resources. I would like to take this opportunity to thank them and the Bishops’ Conference Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis for their efforts to promote understanding and love of the Bible, particularly through the publication of the teaching documents, The Gift of Scripture and the study guide to Verbum Domini, The Word of the Lord.”
Rev Dr Graffy received his doctorate in Sacred Scripture from the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome in 1983. He taught for over 20 years in St John’s Seminary in Wonersh, and is Chair of the National Scripture Working Group, which is an instrument of the Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. Fr Graffy is a past director of Brentwood’s Commission for Evangelisation and Formation and parish priest of Christ the Eternal High Priest in Gidea Park, Essex. Among his publications are the Gospel of Mark and the Letter to the Romans (Alive Publishing).
Listen to BBC Essex interview with Fr Adrian Graffy