FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT

Knowing and not knowing versus real living (1)

First Reading: (Is 63:16-17; 64:1,3-8): The Israelites prayed and repented
Second Reading: (1 Cor 1:3-9): God will strengthen His Disciples
Gospel: (Mk: 3:33-37): Be on the watch and keep awake
Chinese Classics: “Do the dead have consciousness or do they not?
(2)

“Beware, keep alert; 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 slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake - for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly.” (Mk 13:33-36)

We must be preparing for Jesus' Second Coming at all times. He will come to judge and take account of each person's good and evil deeds. The advice Jesus gave to His disciples is the same advice he gives to all people: “And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.” (Mk 13:37)

We don't know the day when Jesus will come again or the exact time for the end of the world. But each of us must be on the watch, be alert, waiting for Jesus' second coming.

Many people find it interesting to speculate about the time for the end of the world. Since the 19th century, some Christian Fundamentalists have predicted many times the exact time of the end of the world. They announce the end of the world in order to urge people to prepare. “The End is coming” they say, and use this as a means to spread religion. At the time of the second millenium they used this point in preaching, using people's fear of death or pessimism about society to urge people to turn to Christ.

At the beginning of 1990, I received a letter from a seminarian in China. He said that his mother who had been a fervent Catholic, for some unknown reason came to believe in one of the Fundamentalist groups. Some group members insisted that the end of the world would come soon. They persuaded her to donate the family buffalo and farm equipment to the church, then ‘wait for Christ's coming’.

At Jesus' Ascension, the disciples also asked Jesus to tell them about the end of the world. But Jesus did not give in to their curiosity. He said to them, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.” (Acts 1:7)

Jesus admitted that he himself did not know the hour: “But about that hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mk 13:32) It is indeed foolish to publicly prophesy something about which even the angels in heaven and the Son are uncertain.

Once someone asked Confucius whether the dead had consciousness or not. Confucius replied: “If I say the dead 'have consciousness' I am afraid that some people would pay more attention to the dead and neglect the living. If I say the dead 'do not have consciousness' I am afraid some people would not bury their dead parents but leave them lying in the wilderness. So, no matter what reply I give you, it would not do you any good. In fact, if you want to know whether the dead have consciousness or not, wait until you are dead and you will know. Why bother asking such a question now?”(3)

Confucius is the Master Sage who knows 'The right attitude towards Life'. He seldom talked about a future life, or something of which he was not certain or had no experience. If he mentioned the future it was to enable people to live the present life to the full.

Jesus did the same. He preferred to put himself into God's hands without questioning. He accepted the limitation of being human, of living out the mystery of the Incarnation, of being fully the “Word made Flesh.” Why then do we waste time in worrying or trying to predict the exact time of the end of the world if Jesus himself didn't want to know?
Today's reading tells us that Jesus for certain will come again, but we do not know the exact time. Therefore we must prepare well throughout our entire life, never neglecting to live as well as we can. We live in the shadow of the future, facing the uncertainty of life. But this is exactly the challenge and joy of being human.

What does it matter 'when that time will come' if we do our best to love God and other people, do both big and small deeds well, are faithful servants, lead lives of piety, daily fulfill what God asks of us, leave no debt unpaid or offense unforgiven? What matters it then when the Lord comes? Would we really live differently

If we thought his coming would be later?

He will come back, 'whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning'. Therefore, if we are always prepared, we will welcome him with a joyous heart whenever he comes. For that will be the time for us to return to our Father's house and receive the reward of eternal life.


(1) 知不知中過一生
(2) 中國文化:死人有知抑無知也?
(3) 曾經有人詢問孔子有關死人有沒有知覺的問題。孔子回答說:「如果我說死人『有知覺』,我就害怕有些人會『妨生而送死』。如果我說死人『無知覺』,我又擔心有些人不去埋葬去世的父母,使他們暴骨荒野。所以我無論怎麼回答,對你們都沒有什麼好處。其實如果你們要知道死人有無知覺,等你們死時就會知道了,何必現在就問這問題呢?」