It is commonplace to say that we judge the quality of our Sunday Worship by how we behave during the rest of the week. One of our parishioners summed this up with, “Don’t let Monday ruin your Sunday”. Today’s Gospel reading challenges us to take this seriously – indeed literally.
First, let us look at why this is true, and then perform a little exercise.
This is the first day of Advent, the beginning of the Church year. We will be reading from St. Matthew’s Gospel. We read St. Luke last year and he tutored us in history: how did the events of Jesus’ life fit together. I hope we all learned from him.
St. Matthew is more practical. He will ask how do we build a Church. What is needed to allow a group of people to form a community?
He will urge us continually not to spend too much time in airy speculation, and to direct our attention to the here and now. An easy way to waste time is to think about when Jesus will return. Matthew tells us clearly today that as we do not know the day the Lord will come, we must be prepared at every moment.
Look at his examples. Historically, before the Flood, people were going about their daily lives oblivious to the upcoming calamity. So it will be when Jesus returns:
Two men will be out in the field;
one will be taken, and one will be left.
Two women will be grinding at the mill;
one will be taken, and one will be left.
There will be no notice even for the most devout.
A brief note for people who have heard about the Rapture. This is a 19th Century Protestant innovation now found in several popular novels. It is of very dubious theological value. Note that when the Flood came, those who were carried away were the sinful. So too with the other examples. It is those who remain on earth that are chosen by God to build the Kingdom with him. Matthew is very worldly. God needs the best he has – to work with him on this world.
That is why he emphasizes preparation, and asks us: “What should we do to prepare?”
Matthew does not have the literary skill of Luke, but he has as clear a vision, and he answers this question in the 25th Chapter. He again speaks of the return of the Son of Man and how He will separate the sheep from the goats. The sheep, his people, will have prepared by caring for the hungry and thirsty, clothing the un-domiciled and welcoming the stranger. In short, what we have come to call the Corporal Works of Mercy.
Tellingly, the sheep themselves are surprised and seem to ask “was that all?” It is so easy to forget that because of Jesus we are all literally brothers and sisters, and how we treat each other will be how we are treating God. Remember the great commandment in Matthew:
You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments (Matthew 22:38-41)
We prepare for Jesus by loving each other.
Now for the exercise.
What were you doing at 1:30 last Monday afternoon? Were you at work, at school or doing a chore at home?
I am choosing a time when it is unlikely that any of us were doing anything explicitly religious. This is most of our daily lives.
Now think of the situation again. Who was around? Was there at work someone who is new to the job or the country and who needs encouragement? If you are a student, did you recognize the existence of the class outcast?
Now broaden your horizon think of the common acts of kindness which the Lord suggests, and ask if you did anything resembling them during the week. Did you visit or call a homebound person? Did you give money to a poor person or an organization which cares for them?
These are just a few examples; I am sure that you can think of others. Should the Lord return when we are still on earth, it will most likely not be while we are praying or dong something heroic, but we can be prepared by seeking to do so many acts of everyday kindness that we will be coming from, going to or doing one of them at the right time.
Think about 1:30PM tomorrow. If all goes well, I will be on the subway. I hope it will be pleasant. Perhaps you will be in the office. Will you have spoken with the person others avoid? We are summoned by Jesus to think of our surroundings. These are the people God has given to us, and our aim must always be to treat them as we would Jesus.
We prepare for the coming of the Lord by how we build the ordinary relationships around us. With our family, friends, coworkers, church members and the people we meet every day. We will most likely never be called to do anything spectacular, but that is not the point.
The best advice for how to prepare for Jesus is from St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta: “Do ordinary things with extraordinary love”.