The gospels used at the daily Mass this past week lead up to the gospel of today’s Mass. They all have to do with what is often called the end times. Our four gospels were written after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD. For Jews and Jewish Christians such devastation and destruction had to mean the end of the world was near. Early Christians expected the imminent return of Jesus as the victorious savior of the world. At His coming the power of evil and sin would be destroyed and the kingdom of God would be established forever.
The gospel statements about sign and portents in the heavens, distress among nations, wars and plagues were all a type of language to describe the end of the world. Because no one knew when and how this would take place the message of Jesus in today’s gospel still holds true – “Keep awake for you do not know when the master of the house will come – in the evening or at midday or the dawn or at cockcrow – what I say to you all, keep awake.”
The type of readings we have in Isaiah and Mark are called apocalyptic – it is a form of writing used at those times in the life and history of a people or community when values and structures seem to lose all meaning for the people and their world seemed to be falling about. At the same time this form of writing and preaching calls people to hope in a new and better future – it is not the end that is important but the possibility of a new beginning people are invited to embrace. In Mark’s parable he makes the point that even if the master of the household , Jesus, is absent for a while, He is still the master who has given each person a task to do and when He comes he expects them to be awake and doing. Only God knows when the world will end. Being prepared for it is our daily task.
For many people in many lands these days must seem like the end of the world, certainly the end of their worlds. Without warning men and women who worked for years with a company find themselves out of work. The security they placed in pension plans is gone. Their property values are slipping. Any stability or security they had is gone. Good people who worked hard all their lives feel themselves betrayed and abandoned.
There are so many ways in which our personal world can come to an end. It could be the loss of a job, the breakup of a marriage or a long term relationship, it could be the death of someone we loved, it could be an automobile accident or a fall in the house, and it could be the discovery of a serious health problem or a bout of depression or anxiety. The list could go on and on but there are times in our lives we feel at a total loss and alone.
But if we look back on our personal lives we can remember times when we’ve felt this way before but we survived and moved on to new things, new life. The image of the potter in our first reading is so powerful and can help us understand our present troubled time. We are all unfinished products; we are the clay in the hands of God the potter. During these coming weeks of Advent we can pray for ourselves and for each other that we all be pliable in God’s hands so He can mold and fashion us into empty bowls, bowls capable of receiving and celebrating the birth of His Son with great joy.